First all this is non-Quake related column update, so it might not interest some of you. You have been warned =).
PnF : A Lesson In How Not To Buy A Graphics Card
Now this little tail can be taken in two ways.
1. A warning as to how difficult a Geforce card can be to get running…
2. An idiot who just has too much money to spend.
I decided back in mid-December that since Quake 3 Arena was going to be out soon I’d upgrade my video card. My existing TNT had done its job but wasn’t up to giving me smooth frame rates at 1024x800 res with all the top-notch bollocks detail on.
My immediate choice was a TNT2 Ultra, but I decided to research a little before I went and spent my hard earned cash. After looking at Sharky’s and Thresh’s FiringSquad I’d come to the conclusion that I should buy one of these new fangled GeForce jobbies.
I’d come up with a list of what I’d wanted. First was the Annihilator Pro from Creative, followed by Elsa and Asus GeForce cards. I trip over to the local PC World proved fruitful, but I did end up buying a bog standard SDR GeForce made by Elsa. Looks something like this:
So I ripped out my old TNT card and carefully wedged in the new one. I booted up and everything appeared to work correctly, it detected, I saw its new bios logo and it continued booting. Now the shiny Window’s 98-startup picture appeared and I gleefully sat there waiting to play Q3A.
Of course that’s where all the fun started… the machine prompted locked up. The display corrupted and went blank and my computer now screamed out in pain emitting a rather annoying high pitched beeping noise. I pressed the power button. It didn’t turn off. I pressed the reset button and it rebooted. I let it boot up again. Exactly the same happened. The only way to turn the machine off was to plug the power lead out the back, so I did.
Power off, I checked everything was plugged in ok. Tried again. Same happened. Decided it was a knacked card and returned it. I spoke to someone at PC World about when they’d get the Annihilator cards in stock. He said mid-January. I thought sod that, I’d go order the Annihilator Pro from Creative online. So I did. It would arrive before they appeared in the shops. At least I thought so.
The week after Christmas I saw the cards in the shops. My greed took hold and I went and bought one knowing full well I had one coming through the post soon. I installed the card and exactly the same thing happened as before.
This is not on I thought, two dud cards by different manufacturers, can’t be right. So I stripped my machine down, tried all sorts of configurations. In the end I just had the card in with nothing else, but the problem still occurred.
Searching in one of Creative’s newsgroup, I started to uncover a grim story. Other owners of Advent PC’s (PC World’s own brand PC) were having the same problems. I thought this could be a motherboard problem. So I found out exactly what I had. A Gigabyte GA-6BXE motherboard. After which I went back to the newsgroup to see if it was mentioned there… and it was. Out of all the motherboards out there I had one that had a problem.
The problem as I found out was due to a manufacturing hiccup Gigabyte had put a voltage regulator on the AGP port. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it stopped enough power going into the port. The TNT card didn’t need the full power of the port so ran perfectly fine, but the GeForce, however, does because its pretty fucking power hungry. The machine locking up is a safety precaution, but it certainly is not helpful in telling you what the problem is. This particular problem had originally appeared when the Voodoo 3 came out but Gigabyte didn’t see fit to tell anyone about it. They just brought out a new revision of the motherboard.
I went to PC World where I’d bought the computer and they were extremely unhelpful. They could only take the card back and offer a refund. The motherboard problem was really not their fault, the computer did work as provided on their spec and that was as far as it went. Bastards!
Next was to see what Gigabyte said. The solution offered was to go buy a new board or as a rogue engineer at the company pointed out, you could solder the board up so it would work! I’d resigned myself to the fact that it was new motherboard time, but thought I might as well find out what was involved in this soldering process. I asked a person, by the name of Doophas, in the Creative newsgroup that had this information and he emailed me this lovely diagram below, along with instructions!
Here is the way to rework...
Use a really thick wire(important!); connect it between the midde pin of regulator, positioned Q18 (next to the AGP slot / right below the .1st PCI slot) and pin 1 and 2 (parallel) of ATX power socket (please see ATX spec for pin assignment, page 23/30) Pin 1 & 2 are 3.3v source, correspond to orange wires on ATX power connector. It's easier to solder this wire on the back of PCB.
(snip), hope this will help and I'll wait for your feedback, thanks a lot!
Jackson Engineer geezer from Gigabyte
I was a little worried about the red line saying wrong connection, but I thought it seemed ok. Now I’ve never soldered a damn thing in my life so first of all I had to get a soldering iron and the crap needed to use it.
After purchasing all this wonderful equipment I set about practicing and improving my nonexistent soldering skills. Kable, in his smugness, knew how to solder. Which is funny because we both went to the same secondary school but in the fours year after I left the electronics department suddenly decided that teaching students to solder might actually be useful for learning electronics, unlike when I did it we had stupid fucking boards with LED lights, buzzers and switches on.
Anyway, he showed me what to do and I then set about destroying the crusty old network card I picked as my victim. Half an hour later I decided this was definite no go and went about checking out new motherboards.
A few days of searching and asking about, I’d decided on an Abit BE6 motherboard. A local shop provided what I wanted and since I was there I went mad and bought 128Mb more ram. Now I’d forgotten about this first GeForce I’d ordered from Creative nearly a month ago, and low and behold the damn thing arrived on the day I bought this new motherboard.
Installation of the new board was relatively simple, except for the fact that the manual was incorrect in where to attach all the switches and jumpers. So incorrect that where it said plug up the power switch was actually going to the speaker jumpers. Anyway, throwing away the manual, I worked it out myself and got the machine running.
And that’s basically the end of the story. The machine now works beautifully. I didn’t have to install any drivers because the last batch of TNT drivers I’d installed had the GeForce stuff in as well and it just switched over automatically.
I did check out the old Gigabyte motherboard and found an odd scotch mark on the underside of the board around the AGP voltage regulator that worried me a bit. I think the two cards I’d put in had tried to set the thing on fire!
In the end it’s been a rather expensive experience. I have a GeForce in my machine, another fully boxed and not even touched direct from Creative that I have no use for. A new motherboard. An old motherboard that is actually perfectly fine. And finally the 128Mb ram I bought just for the hell of it.
I actually think that I got away lightly. Other people have allsorts of problems in Windows getting it to run, including a regular to the Qboard. I do have to say though once I got it working it was completely worth it. Q3A along with all my other games now look a lot better and also run damn fine too.
So it is actually a happy ending, if you don’t include the *cough* 600+ *cough* quid I spent getting it all working =).