Part 6: Buying and installing a CPU upgrade|
Now, I didnt really have the money for this (thank god for interest free student overdrafts), but i found an offer on ebay which I just couldnt resist. It was a Powerlogix 7457 G4 with 2mb of L3 cache.
For those that dont know, the 7457 was never used by Apple, but gave a decent power usage and heat output decrease from the 7455. I already had a 800Mhz 7455 in my cube, so im gaining 500Mhz here, and thats really helping the games and apps im trying to run.
So i bought it, almost by accident, cos i didnt expect to get it. And I also managed to get it for a similar price to something relatively equivalent in terms of actual speed to the lowest end of the current CPU upgrade spectrum that is available. See here for more speed details: http://www.barefeats.com/cubeup.html
The only thing thats lacking from this upgrade is a VRM Bypass, which would take the strain of supplying power for the CPU entirely from the VRM, which is the achilles heel of any cube. So its lucky that with the 7457, Motorola managed to engineer a 40% power usage decrease compared to the 7455. Also, theyve added the ability for the CPU to "nap", or cut its clock speed in half when not in use. So at times, the core will be running at 650Mhz instead of 1.3Ghz to save on heat output.
Installing a new CPU, however, is a complete and utter pain. You have to literally take the cube almost totally apart (you can leave the HDD and DVD drives in place). Which is no mean feat for a first timer like myself. But I got plenty of practice in. id installed the new firmware, Id taken the cube apart, id put the new processor on, and reassembled the entire thing. So I plug it back into a monitor, boot it up, get the Apple on a grey screen, and then the screen just turns blue and does nothing...
So I take a break cos i know that if i go back to it ill lose concentration and mess up.
A few hours later, I go back to it and set to the task of removing the new firmware, taking it apart again, putting the old processor back in, and booting from that. Id also checked that the HDD was alright by putting it into target disk mode and plugging it into my brother's iBook. Eventually I manage to boot up into Safe Mode (otherwise it just hangs as on the upgrade), put the disk back in and reinstall the new firmware. I then proceed to put the 7457 back in, along with my old Geforce 2. It works fine, so I put the 6200 back in. That works fine too.
Only problem I have now is that the system is incredibly buggy. Presumably some prefs files are CPU dependant, so I go through my programs and see what works fine, what doesnt etc. and sort it all out. The only problem I now face is that the Finder sporadically decides that it wont let me or the system or anything write to the HD. You have no idea how annoying that is. iTunes gives you an error everytime you change the order of tracks, Mail wont let you send emails, games wont save files, and just hang, Safari wont let you download, you cant move files, you cant delete files, and you cant make any finder layouts stick cos the system cant create any .DS_Store files. The good old Error -50.
After a few days of restarting my computer every couple of hours to get rid of the error -50s, I manage to find a post at Cubeowner.com which says that if you remove part of the firmware which gives you higher clocks on the L3 cache, then the problem is resolved. Happily, the clocks on the Cache dont affect much performance wise its more important that the cache is just there.
So far, the computer has been up and running for 10 hours with out any errors. Admittedly thats not to say it wont go wrong again (as some people have had), but its better than every 2 hours at least...
Ill put up some benchmarks tomorrow. So far, my frame rate in Q4 has doubled. CoD2 is less jerky, I get half way decent Frame Rates in UT2004, C&CG is now smooth and fast, and Halo is now in the mid 20s as opposed to the high teens. Its all good.
Posted on August 11, 2006 at 2:38 pm
Why are people on ebay complete and utter (expletive of choice)??|
So im minding my own business, buying things on ebay for the upgrades that are going on, and then 2 things happen. One resolved, one not... and probably wont ever be either...
The first one, as you may remember, was the VRM, which was oft delayed, and arrived a month after I bought it... to the wrong address. But I wasnt too fussed about that one really, because the guy who sold it to me insisted on testing it so that he wouldnt get negative feedback, so he went to the trouble of taking apart 2 cubes, installing it in both. Neither worked, so he does a load of trouble shooting, and eventually gets it to work. But then I had to travel off to Leeds to pick it up. bah!
no matter, because I got it in the end, it works fine (first time in fact), and im happy.
But the second purchase is the one that annoys me the most. The 6200 doesnt have ADC, so I need to buy myself a DVI - ADC adapter (Thanks Apple for the wonders of the dead end innovation). So i merrily find myself an adapter on ebay and buy it. Send off a cheque for £40, despite the final bid being £30. So already thats a totally stupid postage charge to get an extra slice off the top. But I was OK with that because its usually more expensive overall.
I check with the guy that he received my cheque and everything seems dandy. He wants to wait for the cheque to clear. I wait the working days, check my online bank balance... its not gone out... I think "ok, so he cashed it a few days later", finally the money goes out, and so Im expecting it to arrive in the next 2-3 days... nothing
I send him an email... nothing... send him another email... nothing. Were now 3 weeks after I bought it, and a week after the cheque cleared. I send him a final warning... nothing. So now ive had to lodge a complaint with ebay, and hopefully hell get in touch. Im going to get a refund, and buy from someone else if he does get through to me.
Luckily, theres a few VGA monitors lying around the house, so ive been using those for the last 3 weeks... but its really really really really annoying...
Posted on July 31, 2006 at 2:55 pm
Part 5: Installing the VRM|
So finally I get my hands on the C-VRM. After more than a month, it arrives... at the wrong address, so I have to go all the way up the country, pick it up, and come all the way back down...
So this morning I get around to trying to install the thing. The instructions are pretty concise, so I try and follow them. Take the top of the chassis off, take out the corner post, pull out the HDD power cable from the VRM, push back the retainer clip (which is harder and more fiddly than it looks) pull out the VRM...
but I cant, because theres a fan attached, and the plug for that is ridiculously small. After ages of battering it into submission I finally manage to pull it out, then I follow the cable, and its been weaved through the cube in such a way that its impossible for me to get it through the tiny gap. Not to mention that the cable isnt long enough to reach the new base fan power point on the C-VRM, which is half way up the board. So i have to cut the cable, then find some more cable (which is nearby anyway), then ive got to use some electrical tape...
electrical tape? well, ill be damned if I know where theres any of that. But finally after searching for a good 20 minutes I find some. So back I go to the task at hand, and remove the plastic coating, hook the wires together and tape it up... perfect.
now its the easy part, just slot the C-VRM into place, put the rest of the cube back together around it, and im set to go.
I test it "naked" first to make sure that everything is working fine. The cube boots, the base fan spins up, the graphics card fan runs. Im happy!
so I turn it off again, put the case back on, and this is now part of my testing phase. ie, I just run the cube turned on for a while, maybe ill put a DVD on in a minute. The good news is that the C-VRM hasnt affected the GPU's temperature in the slightest, so hopefully itll stay that way, as I run the C-VRM in.
3 more stages to go, and Im starting to dread the CPU upgrade ive got planned......
luckily I was planning on doing all the other parts first, so Ive just got to decide, HDD or DVD±RW next... I think im leaning towards the DVD±RW at the moment
Posted on July 21, 2006 at 6:08 am
Part 4: Installing the VR.... no, wait! its the Graphics Card!|
Ok, so in a bizarre turn of events, it was the Graphics card that arrived today, and not the VRM (which should hopefully arrive tomorrow). Not to mention that I havent yet got a DVI-ADC adapter yet (hopefully itll get posted on Monday). Once again, the trials and tribulations of buying things cheap off ebay rears its ugly head..... *sigh*
Ok, so the graphics card arrived, and its not too difficult to install. Well, get onto the difficult bit in a moment. First, some history. The reason for its relative ease of installation is that Apple wanted to be able to change certain parts of the Cube's configuration over time. Most obviously, the RAM has to be user friendly to install, whilst the Graphics card had BTO options so that had to be easy to switch out, and finally, the most potentially problematic part of the cube, the VRM, had to be easy to switch out. All of this is therefore in a single bay of the Cube, on one of the 4 sides. But all 3 will make quite a lot of heat, and so its actually quite a bad thing that they arent in the central wind pipe for cooling... Of course, over time, people wanting to get more out of their cube have added faster and hotter running graphics cards. First up was the beast that was the Geforce 3, then came the user modded 8500, closely followed by the 9000, which had an ADC port, and so made it all the more attractive. The 9000 had the problem of being slightly too big for the space alloted it, and so necessitated the VRM being moved to the wind pipe, which isnt a bad thing...
anyway, back to installing things:
so all i had to do to install it was take out the core, unscrew the old card's face plate, remove the old card (its on a crazy proprietary rise) by pulling out the riser with the gf2 on, which was a squeeze to get in there. Then switch out the cards and stick everything back in...
now one problem with installing custom cards into a cube is that the face plate wont match up. The face plate was made specifically for the cube, and is flat, with a hole for the ADC and a VGA. the new card has a DVI, a S-Video and a VGA... of course, that doesnt really fit, but sacrifices were made, and at the moment ive managed to secure the VGA port in a mildly precarious manner, so I can use it fine... Just
The most difficult part of installing it was plugging the fan into a power outlet. Happily, the person that flashed the card for me also suggested where this could be done, and put up a guide on the internet, here:
but it was still really quite fiddly and annoying. But it all works fine now so im happy.
Speaking of the fan, its pretty quiet. Ive downclocked it to 7v, thanks to the guide on Stangedogs, and its running fine. I can see the lights on it if I look down the vent, and I can definitely feel the air coming up. In fact, Gotoh, who did the conversion, said that its one of the better fans for the cube that he has seen so far... ill have to see if I can find what brand it was...
-------- -------- -------- -------- --------
Time for some Benchmarks!
UT2004 3369.2, BotMatch,
DM-Antalus, 1280x1024, Maximum settings, No sound:
Min - 6.586386 (was 2.715247)
Average - 12.222062 (was 5.561469)
Max - 28.962809 (was 22.430868)
as you can see, the average has doubled. Now, thats pretty impressive. I doubt ill be playing at this resolution and with max settings. After having a go with it a minute ago, it was completely playable at 1024x768, adding Render to Texture and accurate shadows to the config files, along with putting everything on High apart from Physics.
Now, we move on to Halo
Halo 1.5.2, 800x600, Lens Flare Low, Model Detail Medium, Decals on, Particles low, Texture Quality Medium
/previous/ now / Vertex & Pixel Shaders
/ / / Everything maxed out
Average FPS / 23.21 /21.20 / 18.73
time below 25fps/ 63% /73% / 79%
time below 40fps/ 92% /93% / 98%
Halo 1.5.2, 1024x768, Lens Flare High, Model Detail High, Decals on, Particles high, Texture Quality High, Specular Off, Shadows Off.
/previous/ no / Vertex / Vertex & /
/ /shaders / Shaders / Pixel /
Average FPS / 14.24 /19.06 / 23.78 / 18.06 /
time below 25fps/ 93% /80% / 51% / 79% /
time below 40fps/ 99% /97% / 93% / 98% /
Now this is odd. It runs faster with Vertex shaders as opposed to no shaders.. Wuh? But either way, I could still play it at any of the above settings, albeit with the odd bit of slowdown, and I have. The settings Im currently using are the 800x600 with everything maxed out, and I still find it playable, despite there being a supposed average drop of 5FpS. Youll also notice that its no slower (really) than running at 1024x768 with no shaders, or 1024x768 with V&P turned on. The main reason why Im sticking it out at these settings is cos the improvements in visual quality are just absolutely immense, the pixel shaders actually make the game, with the floor textures having depth, the Elites having their crackling energy shields, the Covenant armour reflecting. Its literally twice as nice as before, and still very very playable thanks to the way that the Halo engine handles FpS slowdown (ie, it goes into slow motion as opposed to jerking around), ill probably keep it on settings quite similar to this.
Ill do some benches on my brothers ibook to compare this with.
--In other news, Ive found the CoD2 demo playable-ish (and much nicer looking than on an iBook with 9200 thanks to the 6200's shader 3.0 support), despite the supposed 10-15 frames per second. I wouldnt try playing on anything above Easy with this set up, but I might buy the game. I tried it again with the textures set to High instead of Low, and the frame rate dropped to 8-10FpS, so I wont be trying that again in a hurry.
--Also, the Stubbs demo is barely playable, and pretty jerky, at lowest settings. Of course, if I had another 400Mhz on my processor, I imagine that things would be much smoother, so ill not be buying this quite yet...
--The Wingnuts 2 Demo is absolutely beautiful with everything turned up to the max, and also very playable.
--Doom3 ran alright ish (same as with CoD2 really). So it was fine when there was no baddies, but as soon as one turned up it turns into a soggy morass. But theres more settings I could turn off, cos Id set it to medium. Ill do a proper bench in a bit.
--Call of Duty ran like a dream. Initially I turned a few settings up too high, but as soon as I got them back to a more reasonable level it was very playable. It doesnt look much prettier than before, but it was passably better.
--KotoR was excellent (by previous standards). When running around I had the texture level right up, shadows on, anti-aliasing at 2x, AF at 2x, and upped the resolution to 1024x768, and im pretty sure that if i avoid Dantoine then itll be playable. The FpS wasnt too high, but its much better than it was before, and the speed races are smooth.
--Marathon runs nicely with everything turned up, and the super high texture resolution. On the Gf2 it was jerky, but the 256mb of VRAM really makes the difference when compared to the 32Mb I had yesterday.
--Darwinia saw a big increase in smoothness. The graphics havent changed much, but instead of getting a purported 8FpS, im now getting on average 15FpS. A pretty big change, especially cos the game now seems to be much much much smoother.
--BF1942 ran great, and was a marked improvement, cos now I can up the draw distance a lot...
The only games so far that have had any trouble has been C&C generals Zero Hour (ive not tried Generals vanilla yet), where the beach in the intro has got a red colour. Similar to the discoloration in CoD2 on a graphics card which isnt up to snuff with its shaders (Radeons 8500, 9000, 9200 and Geforce 3 & 4, anything less than that and it wont even run). The other game is THPS4, which just wont load... at all... Odd, ill keep trying it though...
-------- -------- -------- -------- --------
the temperature of the core is currently recorded as 55C, or 131F... which is higher than what I expected, but the air coming out of the top of the cube isnt any hotter than what was coming out the top before, and its definitely more efficient thanks to the fan. Im thinking of raising the cube of the desk a bit though, possibly with some simple wood blocks... that would mean extra air is getting in there and maybe drop the temps by a degree or two.
EDIT: Under stress, the core jumps up to around 60C, but as soon as you stop stressing it, it drops a degree, and I expect itll drop back down to 55C soon.
-------- -------- -------- -------- --------
The cost so far? well, the card was around £80, while the fan was £5... so £85, but that doesnt include the adapter which is another £40, and the VRM which is another £55... it all mounts up and up and up...
My many thanks to Gotoh over at Strangedogs for doing the conversion for me.
Posted on July 14, 2006 at 6:44 am
So, after the latest addition to the IMG Podcast formula occuring in Podcast 28 (youll love it when it comes out) I feel like I need to clarify the rules to possibly THE most immature game ever... aside from Pull Girls' Hair. Thats pretty immature...
The original version of the showdown was entitled You're Gay, but this can of course be changed to pretty much anything, such as You Don't Eat Wheatabix or something equally stupid.
The battle starts on the spur of the moment, and as soon as the first remark (Dude! youre SO Gay!) has been made, the battle has ensued.
Each person takes it in turns to have a comeback, in which they pick up on a particular trait of the other person as the reason for said victim's Gayness. So, for example, "Youre more gay cos youve got velcro shoes" could be followed by "Well, youre more gay cos youre wearing sandals!" etc. etc. etc.
The ultimate comeback is to simply state that what the other person said does not in fact make you more gay, but instead that them lacking this makes them more gay. But this does not automatically win you the match.
A battle is won when either party concedes that they are the more gay, or when they fail to make a comeback quickly enough (NO HESITATING!).
So, for example:
A:Stop it you gay!
B: Er, no... youre more gay
A:Actually youre more gay cos youve crossed your legs
B:Well youre more gay cos you use gel in your hair
A:No, youre more gay cos you dont use gel in your hair, making it look like a great big stupid perm!
B: er.... er.... damn...
In this instance, A won.
This can of course be adapted to more than one person, as is shoddily shown on the podcast, but its better with 2 people. Personally, for multi-person games, I recommend either having a tournament, or playing it pass the parcel style. However, if played pass the parcel, then you need to have the option of the immediate comeback, thus switching the direction of the game, and potentially tripping up the person who tried to say you were gay (how could they!).
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On a side note, certain upgrades are "On Their Way!" the VRM was held up because the sender wanted to test it, and then had to do quite a bit of trouble shooting to get it to work, but that should arrive tomorrow morning... so expect an update for that tomorrow.
The 6200, on the other hand, was caught up in the slow morass that is the French postal service (its even worse and slower than the British one!). But that too has been put in the post, and hopefully I should have it early next week.
On the gaming front, Ive been giving Halo another go, this time on Heroic, and have managed to get to AotCR.
Im also playing through the Marathon series again, with the latest Aleph One and High Res textures, which make it very very nice... Performance on that has dropped a tad, but shouuld pick up when the 6200 arrives. So far im onto Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!, and im trying to do a level a day... ish... depends if ive got something better to do.
Posted on July 13, 2006 at 3:25 pm
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Beta test 1
CPU Speed: 1.26 - 1.5 GHz
Memory: 1.5 GB
Video: NVIDIA GeForceFX 5200 Ultra
Display: Generic Flat Panel
HD Space: 81 - 120 GB
CD: Generic 48x
DVD: Generic 12x
Details: G4 1.3Ghz 7457 with 2Mb of L3 cache
its a 6200, not a 5200, and theres a C-VRM in there too
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