Category Archives: Hardware

Setting up my new Dev Rig and solving the DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION error

Last month I finally setup my new dev-rig. Yes, I still prefer desktops for development (call me old school)! The configuration is as follows:

  1. Processor: Intel Core i5 4570
  2. Motherboard: Gigabyte H87-HD3
  3. RAM: Crucial Ballistix Tactical (8GBx2) 16GB @1600MHz  
  4. Power Supply: Corsair CX500
  5. Case: Aerocool GT Advance Mid Tower Interior USB3 12cm Red LED Fan Screwless – Black
  6. SSD: Kingston 240GB V300 (Recycled from my MBP)

Here’s the Amazon (co.uk) Wishlist with all the items – My Haswell Build

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Putting it together

Having assembled quite a few machines in my past, this was my first LGA processor. So after a few videos on YouTube on how to put one in, I had the confidence to do it. The processor installation went without hiccup. The Heat Sink and Fan gave a few anxious moments with the amount of pressure required to bolt all the four corners down, but I did it without damaging anything.

Rest was reasonably easy. When installing RAM (if installing 2 sticks) follow the color coding on the slots and check your M/B instruction manual to confirm which set you should use first. If you are putting in 4 sticks, hopefully they are all evenly matched so color coding doesn’t matter.

Key to getting a nicely matched Case was evident when I was able to use the USB3 header on the M/B for plugging in the USB3 port in the front.

The front panel Audio headers work, but sound from the built in Sound Card is pathetic. I can hear the hissing of the fan, whining of the PSU and even moving the (wireless mouse) results in funny squeaking sounds. I use my Blue Yeti (microphone) as an external soundcard, it has very neutral sound and I can use headphones without the annoyances of the internal soundcard.

This case has two fans built in, both come with 3 pin cables that you can plug on to the motherboard, allowing finer control of Fan speed from OS/Additional Software.

The Power Supply goes at the bottom of this case. One suggestion, before putting in the power supply, put the SSD in. Once the P/S is in, there are way too many cables to get out of the way, unless you are using a fully modular P/S, in which case sequence doesn’t matter). The SSD sits just above the 3.5” bays (there place to put only one SSD. For more than one, you’ll need a 3.5” to 2.5” converter). The case comes with a pamphlet that suggests you bolt it to the grill (above the 3.5” bays), but if you do so, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to plug in the SATA and power cables.

This case doesn’t have a power or ‘HDD’ light header, it does have a molex connector for the Red LEDs  that serve as the ‘power’ lights. Plug it into any of the molex power connectors from the P/S.

Given that we don’t have HDDs any more, the ‘HDD’ light doesn’t really make much sense.

The 5.25” drive bay covers can be pinched out, but don’t press too hard, you’ll snap something. I snapped a hook and had to superglue it back.

BIOS Defaults

The default BIOS settings are by default pretty good. Just make sure you set the Disk Controller to AHCI (don’t remember what the default was). This is important from getting the best out of your SSD and you can’t change it after OS is installed.

I also turned on the XMP memory profile, this makes full use of the 1600MHz Memory Bandwidth, else your RAM will run at 1333MHz.

The CX500 and Haswell

After I purchased the CX500 I found various articles saying the CX500 was still not Haswell Compliant. Haswell processors have a special power save mode that draws even less power than the ATX standards. I thinks it’s called S7 or something. This results in system not coming out of Power Save mode. However, I have not encountered any issues with the P/S. I put my machine to Sleep overnight regularly and it comes back without fail. So newer versions of CX500 should be fine. There is an ‘official’ CX500 V2 also but mine doesn’t say V2. Either ways, it works fine for me. I’ll update on longevity later.

Windows Phone 8 SDK Installation and DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION

I installed Windows 8 on it first and then upgraded to 8.1 (complete overwrite). After running updates repeatedly, till all updates were in place, I installed Windows Phone 8 SDK. As soon as it re-booted, I got a BSOD saying DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION. I ignored it initially and updated the latest Visual Studio 2012 service pack (without which WP emulator doesn’t work on Windows 8.1). After that the WP Emulator worked but every reboot would result in a watchdog violation. This upset me terribly. No amount of Driver install from the Driver disk/Manufacturer’s site etc. helped. Ultimately uninstalling Hyper V (and effectively killing any chance of WP development) I was able to ‘fix’ the reboot issue.

After a lot of Ducking around and posting on Eight Forums, I did a Windows 8.1 Reset. However, after reset as soon as I installed WP 8 SDK, the BSOD returned. This time I installed Gigabyte’s APP Center app from the CD that accompanies the Motherboard. Using the APP Center, I updated all the drivers and then updated the BIOS. The motherboard came with V5, I updated it to V6 (latest available). The APP Center is really cool way to update BIOS updates. Just point to the one of the servers offered, wait for download to complete and hit OK. Thanks to the dual BIOS scheme, the App can flash the BIOS on the fly. Once done, it reboots.

After the reboot the DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION was resolved. Phew!

Side Note

If you have a Office 365 for Business account, don’t setup Mail or pay very close attention to the warning that Mail gives about changing security settings. Once the security settings are applied I lost Admin rights. I couldn’t install SQL Express/Create new User Account and in general had permission issues all around. This is why I actually did the reset. I haven’t reapplied the security settings. Not sure if this is the root cause, but for now I don’t have the permissions I had earlier, so I intend to keep things that way.

SSD Performance

I had high hopes from my Kingston V300, but was surprised to see it’s result compared to my V200 back in India.

as-ssd-bench KINGSTON SV300S3 3.22.2014 5-22-56 PM

As you can see the V300 outpaces the V200 overall but 4K read/write speed is actually lower than the V200. Wonder why! Maybe last six months playing second fiddle in my MBP took it’s toll.

Conclusion

I built this rig on a tight budget, but it’s a decent performing setup thanks to the ample RAM and SSD. Honestly, once you go SSD you just can’t go back to an HDD. Maybe I’ll add a Crossfire someday to it (unlikely), but it is likely to get more RAM and bigger SSDs in the future.

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Juicing up a dated MacBook Pro

It’s fair to say, my MBP is dated and well past it’s prime. It’s a Mid 2009 13” Core 2 Duo that I purchased new in Jan 2010. It was my very first personal laptop and has worked flawlessly for the last 3 years. I’ve taken good care and given it three updates (before this week), Memory Upgrade from 4 Gig to 8 Gig, HDD Upgrade from the default 270 (or so) Gig to a 1 TB Western Digital Caviar Blue. The third upgrade was from OSX Snow Leopard to OSX Lion.

This week I gave it another upgrade, added an SSD in the CD Drive slot. The components involved were

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I had initially zeroed in on the Samsung EVO 250 Gigs drive, but ultimately settled for the Kingston which I’ve (a good) experience with.

Swapping the Parts

Step 1: Flip your MacBook Pro and unscrew the 10 or so screws. Start from the top right corner and go anti-clockwise, the first three screws will be the longer than the rest.

Step 2: Before we remove the Optical drive we have to unhook two flat cables. First one connects the optical drive to the MoBo and the second one connects the HDD to the MoBo. Use a plastic spludger or your nails to gently lift them up as shown below.

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Step 3: There are three screws that hold it in place, and there is a connector cable to the motherboard that we have to remove. The first screw is under the cable towards the center of the system. You have to push the cable up, to reveal the screw.

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Step 4: The next screw is on the Top Left corner of the system and easily accessible

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Step 5: The Final screw is near the middle on the Left hand edge, again easily accessible

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Step 6: Next lift up the Optical drive from the bottom left corner gently. It will come up only about a centimeter then pull it towards yourself. If you encounter resistance bend the battery sticker and the straighten the HDD flat cable, they are stiffer than they look.

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Step 7: Once you have extracted the Optical Drive there is a hook attachment that you need to unscrew and screw it back to the HDD caddy.

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Step 8: The flat cable that we removed from the Motherboard earlier goes into the Optical drive via another adapter. Gently pull it out as well, after you have put in your new HDD into the HDD caddy, you can put this adapter back into the HDD Caddy.

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Step 9: Once you have snapped the HDD into the caddy, flip the caddy over and put in two screws (the Caddy came with a bunch of screws, pick the right size)

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Step 10: Here on it’s the inverse process of Step 6 and go back carefully, till your MacBook is bolted up.

Notes and Caveats

You are probably wondering why I put the new SSD into the HDD caddy instead of the Hard Drive bay because OSX can’t boot off a drive in the Optical Drive bay.

Well, I use Windows 8.1 via VMWare Fusion more often than I use the native OSX, and running the VMs off the same drive as the OS was really stretching it. OSX would literally be rendered useless when the VMs was running. I moved the VM to an external USB drive, that improved things but had it’s own set of issues with the VMs crashing after going into Sleep mode and so on.

I want the SSD to be where my VMs are run off. After the installation, OSX is slightly more useful with the Win8.1 VM running and the Win8.1 VM simply screams. It is almost as fast as Windows on SSD natively. I moved the VMWareFusion.app to the SSD as well.

Enabling TRIM

Sometimes we just hate OSX for being a ‘*****’. The case here being TRIM support for Apple installed SSDs only. YES! OSX Lion supports TRIM but only for Apple installed SSDs not third party SSDs. After you have ‘Initialized’ your drive using Disk Utility tool, get yourself Chameleon SSD Optimizer or some other similar third party product and enable TRIM on your SSD without fail. YMMV so use it at your own risk. The Disk Utility Tool will pop up and ask you to Initialize the disk first time you boot up and it detects the SSD.

Conclusion

Things are going well so far. Near native Windows performance and OSX can be used in parallel. Most people do the opposite by putting the OS on the SSD and moving everything else off it. In my case I don’t need OSX to run any faster than it is at the moment. I needed a stable and better performing Windows VM. I got that. This is a strictly temporary situation until I get my Haswell computer together and the SSD might be repurposed there, but that story is for later.

P.S. Amazon decided that I could wait for the Optical Drive enclosure so it has scheduled it for delivery in December Surprised smile. Till then the Optical Drive is wrapped away in bubble wrap. Once the drive enclosure arrives I’ll be able to use the Optical Drive as an external USB drive.

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Windows RT, Surface and Courier – What could have been

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Today’s announcement of Nokia Lumia 2520 made me happy briefly before I realized the inevitability – Microsoft has bought Nokia’s Lumia brand so once the acquisition goes through, either the Surface RT or the Lumia tablet would be canned. As a Surface RT owner and admirer of the Lumia brand it’s not a good scenario, but that’s not what this post is about, the thought of one of the products getting canned rekindled memories of the Courier. Microsoft’s parallel tablet OS experiment that lost out to Windows 8.

If you have never heard of the The Courier, you can see the concept here and read how it didn’t make it.

As you can see, it was an ‘innovative’ idea. But it lost out to Windows 8. At the time I didn’t know about Windows RT and was in general bought into the idea of continuing with the Windows lineage. But then months later, Microsoft Announced Windows RT and the Surface RT.

When Surface RT launched there was an OUTCRY from the tech bloggers as to it was ‘confusing’ because it was Windows that didn’t work with ‘old’ Windows apps. I am pretty sure these are all Apple/Google fanbois who use a Mac or Chromebook (pun intended) for their day to day work!. I bought an RT fully knowing what it is not and I am sure the ‘very few’ people who bought it, knew what they were doing.

But knowing what I knew, I was still surprised how much Windows baggage Windows RT contained and probably the biggest drawback was battery life. Jeff Atwood (of StackExchange fame) had a scathing take on it a few days back and I wrote about it myself in my Surface RT reviews. Much as we would have liked it Windows RT wasn’t a reboot but a re-compile with unnecessary pieces weeded out! But 18 years of an OS shows and it takes much longer to ‘weed out’ un-necessary gremlins. Would a fresh/ground up Courier OS for ARM tablets have been better? I am not saying Windows RT is not touch friendly, but it’s definitely not battery friendly and neither is it flying off the shelves after being bracketed as an iPad wannabe!!!

So after looking at Nokia’s apps for Photos etc. and thinking about the past few days of blogosphere I was thinking what if Surface RT was the Courier and Windows RT was Courier OS? Surface Pro could have been the productivity tablet, while Courier was the entertainment oriented branding! I am not even saying it should have been a split screen form-factor, a clean start, a different branding, hit battery life and some of the Courier features of course!!! Vendors could have used the Windows Phone 8 ecosystem to launch Tablets while the Courier would have been MS’ niche product.

Well, one can dream!!!

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Adding ssd to my desktop– ICH7, ahci and bios updates

I’ve been holding off on an SSD upgrade for a very long time now, simply because I didn’t want to be limited to 40-60Gigs of drive space even though it’s more than enough for an OS partition. But cost of SSDs have fallen pretty fast over the last 6-8 months and I saw a Kingston 240GB available for little under INR 12K at Flipkart last Monday. So I went for it finally.

I got the Kingston V+200 240 GB SSD Internal Hard Drive (SVP200S37A/240G) from Flipkart for Rs.11,542/-. Snagged an extra 10% discount during one of their Monday Sale events.

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Installation and Upgrade

The physical installation was a little tricky because the above model unfortunately didn’t come with a bay converter. Neither did it come with SATA cable or screws (as falsely promised by Flipkart).

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Anyways, for someone who’s been assembling computers for the last 15 years I had enough backup screws Winking smile. The SSD came with a self adhesive plastic rim that’s supposed to act as a spacer if you are using it in a laptop. I used the spacer as a stand as I rested the SSD belly up on one of the bays and put in two screws to hold it in place. (Use screws that come for CD Drives, the other cabinet screws are bigger, the drive is delicate so don’t force bigger screws in, you might just void the warranty).

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Once connected, I booted up to the Windows 8 Partition I had and installed the EaseUS Todo Backup 6.0 Free.

Actually I won’t repeat the steps, you can just follow LifeHacker’s excellent guide. That’s what I followed.

I did not have an issue with ‘emptying’ my HDD because my existing drive was 250 Gigs too. I could have literally copied partitions and run with it. But I took the opportunity to remove some junk from My Documents and My Downloads which I was anyways going to put on my HDD once I restored my system. Turns out I was using only about 80Gigs of space in total Surprised smile.

Note: If you follow the guide, once done with the partition swap and booted into Windows 8 with your SSD, it is suggested that you format your old hard drive. At this point you will be able to see a 300 odd MB ex-system partition ON THE HDD. Feel free to remove it and reclaim the entire space.

Since EaseUS Backup is actually a Backup tool it installs a couple of services. I didn’t want to use EaseUS Backup once I was done with my restore, so I disabled the services and apparently EaseUS doesn’t like that so it doesn’t run without it. Not a big deal, just thought you might want to know.

Testing Performance

Warning: Here on things get all geeky so don’t blame me if it’s long and winding.

Who doesn’t want to know how their ‘investment’ improved things Winking smile.

The first Wow was the near instant boot up. My desktop now boots nearly as fast as my Surface RT. Actually my BIOS startup takes longer than going from the boot logo to login page. Visual Studio snaps open, Word/Excel/PowerPoint fly open in no time.

Fair enough but how did the SSD actually stack against the competition? A quick search revealed the excellent AS SSD Benchmark utility (Direct Download, you can visit Alex’s Site for more information, though major parts are not in English).

So I ran the Utility and my results were as follows:

First the HDD

as-ssd-bench ST3250820SV ATA  6.16.2013 4-20-44 AM

Well I didn’t have anything to compare it against so I played along and ran it on the SSD next

Next the SSD

as-ssd-bench KINGSTON SVP200S 6.16.2013 5-02-23 AM

Billions for blue blistering barnacles, that’s crazy compared to the HDD.

Sequential Read: ~3x
Sequential Write: ~2.5x
4K-64K blocks Random Read: ~30x
Access Time: ~90times faster

But after a little searching it was apparent this was nowhere close to the peak performance the SSD was capable of. According to this thread, it wasn’t really optimal performance.

I was worried that the ‘Sandforce Controller’ was not working correctly. After hours of searching (and multiple BIOS updates later) the conclusion was much more reassuring.

AHCI vs. IDE Modes for SSD

AHCI stands for – Advanced Host Controller Interface a relatively new standard for Storage Controllers (could be used for others as well I don’t know). Whereas IDE is the older Integrated Drive Electronics standard. AHCI has come into prominence with SATA and supports Hot Plugging and Native Command Queuing among other ‘stuff’. Long story short you need AHCI to leverage optimal performance out of your SSD. Now here is the kicker that took me hours to find out:

The ICH7 chipset does not support AHCI and no amount of BIOS upgrades is going to get you this ability

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Most sites will tell you to enable AHCI in your BIOS and if you go to buy a Motherboard today it will probably come with AHCI default. But unfortunately my M/B is an ageing 6 years+ for a first Gen Core 2. It never had AHCI support to start with.

Unfortunately I didn’t find things out in the order I am presenting here, so I spent about half a day researching how to upgrade my BIOS and applied all the upgrades available to it, which did lead to a more stable S3 sleep mode, but no AHCI. But I just couldn’t stop until I read on this site that AHCI is not supported on ICH7 chipsets! It pointed to some Intel documents that seem to be currently unavailable, but anyway, that’s when I stopped.

So if you have the Chipset ICH7 stop looking of AHCI support in your BIOS. There are other variants of ICH7 like ICH7-DH, ICH7R and ICH7M that have AHCI support, plain vanilla ICH7 does not, end of story.

How to tell and IDE Controller vs. AHCI

This one was confusing to find at first too. So the shortcut is to look at the AS SSD and spot the controller name

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If it says ‘intelide’ you have an IDE controller. AHCI controllers usually say iastor or msahci, first one being an Intel Driver and the next one being a native Microsoft Driver.

Well, that wraps the story of my SSD upgrade. If you have an ICH7 I hope it saved you some time from looking up a BIOS Setting.

Someday soon, I’ll be upgrading to a new M/B + Processor and this SSD should be right at home. I’ll post an upgraded result then.

For now, I leave you with the rather embarrassing overall WEI score of my PC before and after the upgrade (psst, HDD score went from 5.9 to 7.2):

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PS: This post has been a month in the ‘writing’. As you can see from the timestamps in the above image, I did the upgrade just about a month ago. So far so good, all’s well with the Kingston drive on Windows 8 Pro, perfectly stable and much smoother performance.

Footnote – I was a happy FlipKart customer till this purchase. First they got the model number and the package contents mixed up resulting in falsely advertising things they didn’t have in the package. Next, on complaining, they responded 5 days later expressing willingness to exchange it. I had installed after waiting for 72 hours without response to my complaint. They closed it well by giving me a discount voucher of Rs. 500/-. Things would have ended there but a few weeks later they took down my review of the product from their site and sent me a mail demanding I change my review (it was rated 3 star initially and I upgraded it to 4 star with details of all that was happening). That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. I refused to change the review because it had all the ‘facts’ as it had happened. I loved Flipkart but their stupid behavior has left me with the feeling they don’t want their customers to benefit from true reviews and they just want “oo nice service Flipkart’” type reviews instead. Well, I might as well shop from ebay in that case. Also when I last checked the SSD was still advertised with the incorrect Model Number vs. Features. Never shopping at Flipkart again!

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Finally Upgraded my PC

I’ve wanted to upgrade my PC from the ancient Celeron 700 with about 300Megs of RAM to something better for a while now. So finally when in Kolkata for Nemo’s B’Day celebration when my Dad’s P4’s HDD crashed, I got a chance to revisit my friendly neighbourhood computer parts supplier. I’ve been assembling my own PCs for about a decade now. In the recent past I had the opportunity to ogle at the Mac Mini running OS X at a friends’ place in US. Back in India, one window shopping tour thru an Apple store and the G5 was a great temptation. Still the fact that I make my living working on MS technology stack made the final decision pretty easy.

Before the actually shelling out the bucks did a quick search for motherboard models from ASUS because there were rumours that the Intel Original Boards were being too cranky for comfort. So with a scribbled list of 5-6 m/b names I went shopping for my new ‘PC’. Ended up with the following:

1. Intel core 2 Duo @ 2.0 GHz (800 MHz FSB and 2MB L2 cache)

2. ASUS P5B MX/WiFi AP Motherboard with onboard Gb/s LAN, Wifi Support, Realtek HD Audio, 6USB Ports, 4 SATA, 1 UDMA IDE and 1 Floppy Drive support, 2 DDR SDRAM slots.

3. 2 sticks of Transcend 1GB DDR SD running at 667MHz

4. 250 GB 7200 RPM Seagate SATA HDD

5. A Samsung DUAL Layer DVD R

6. Windows Vista Business OEM

7. Norton Antivirus for Dad’s PC

Total bill came to approx 27K INR which is < $700.

Since I had to carry all this back to Pune didn’t purchase the cabinet/power-supply needed to house the new PC.

The lack of Cabinet posed a small challenge of testing the whole setup before going back to Pune. Luckily enough my Uncle had recently purchased a new P4 Machine. So off I went to his place.

The new socket was a surprise but the bigger surprise was the CPU it self (look Ma no Pins!!!). Anyways, gingerly placed the CPU and even more tentatively pushed the lever back on. Then went the HUGE CPU cooler fan. RAM was easy. Unplugging the other machine’s power-supply and plugging it into my M/B was challenge in itself. Ended up with a plywood plank across the cabinet that supported my MB/HDD and DVD. With this precarious setup, switched on the PC and lo! it worked the first time. Yipppieeeee!!!

In went the Vista DVD and thus started the installation process. Was relatively painless as Vista seemed to have drivers for everything even though the M/B had come with drivers for graphics card and WiFi (beta for Vista). Took about an hour to complete the setup including partitioning the 250GB HDD into 3 roughly similar sized partitions and formating the C:. First step successful. All h/w validated.

Back in Pune, bought a Frontech Cabinet, Supercomp 450 watts power supply (said ATX 2.03 compliant whatever it means) a cheap PS/2 key board (plan to go for a wireless k/b and mouse setup soon) and an extra cabinet fan to prevent the CPU from getting fried too soon. Assembled everything in place and booted up. No issues. Next step connecting to my Linksys wireless router and thru it to the Internet via the broadband modem. Funnily enough the wireless router was in a reset state and had to be reconfigured completely to connect to the net. That done Vista quickly connected to the net. Though the inability to do a ipconfig/release and renew led to some anxious moments. But it detected Internet on its own accord that had worked till about the first 25% of this blog. Somehow had to reset the router to get back to the net now. Thanks to the reset the Orcas beta download got messed and has now restarted.

On fiddling around for a while managed to get to the device manager in Vista which showed three unknown/conflicting devices. So first I put the m/b device driver CD that installed the Graphics Card Drivers and Audio drivers that brought the number of unknown/conflicting devices to 2. A full windows update resulted in one of the unknown drivers getting identified as Atheros AR57007 Wireless Network Adapter. Still it was ‘conflicting’. Now I was beginning to get jittery. Went to asus website and downloaded the latest drivers for the WiFi card and installed. Reboot. Voila!!! All devices identified and no longer conflicting. Enabled the wireless device and played around with it to ensure it was working both as Access Point and Base station. As I disabled it, BAM! The dreaded BSOD. Some stupid error saying IRQ_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL and a subsequent memory dump. Nasty, very nasty. Reboot, google google google… Seems it could be bad memory. Dug out MemTest and left it on for the rest of the night. after 600% testing no errors. So no bad RAM. Left it as it is.

It has been a week now and the machine has been running almost 14-16 hours a day. No issues so far except for the drop in internet connection earlier today while typing this blog.

Somewhere in between, enabled the Vista Aero Effects and the desktop now looks impressive with all the glassy/translucent effects. Yes it is reminiscent of the OS X, but I am not complaining. If anything it’s a ‘better looking’ windows. Too used to Firefox now and downloading Firefox is probably the maximum use of IE7 that I did. IE7 is notorious at office with all it’s ridiculous popus and content blocking. Our ASP.NET application runs better on Firefox than on IE ;-)…

So far no serious work undertaken on the machine. Will have a better feel of actual performance once I get my hands dirty with Orcas.

Just now dug out the Performance Information Tool and according to it following is the system Performance (with Aero Enabled).

Component Score

Processor Intel(R) Core(TM)2 CPU 4400 @ 2.00GHz 4.9
Memory (RAM) 1.99 GB 4.8
Graphics Intel(R) 946GZ Express Chipset Family 3.8
Gaming graphics 358 MB Total available graphics memory 3.7
Primary hard disk 61GB Free (78GB Total) 5.8

Well, now that I’ve joined the Vista bandwagon, lets see how it goes. Will keep everybody updated.

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