It’s 2013. Most, if not all new motherboards have transitioned over to using the UEFI standard for computer start up instead of the legacy BIOS. There are numerous benefits to this, though there will still be some quirks as manufacturers find their feet with the (relatively) new technology. Prior to the introduction of UEFI, many motherboard manufacturers allowed you to update your BIOS directly during the POST sequence. Press the marked key, insert your flash drive with the BIOS file on it and you were pretty much good to go. Much more convenient than booting of a floppy drive to run a DOS based flashing tool…
That being said, if you work in an environment where you are exposed to older computers from around 2005-2008, you may encounter motherboards that cannot be flashed at boot time. To make matters worse, most of these boards were not designed to be updated from flashing inside Windows. The only supported method is to flash from MS-DOS. All very well and good, but getting down to MS-DOS in 2013 is not that easy. Floppy drives all but vanished 4 (or more) years ago. Also, for something as vital as a BIOS flash, you would want to use a new fresh disk that stands less chance of being corrupted halfway through the flash. Problem is, it’s not easy to find new disks these days, nor should you have to struggle with such antiquated methods.
The most logical next step is to use a bootable flash drive. Most motherboards will allow you to boot off of a flash drive. You could try to use FreeDOS, though I have no idea how well that would work as many of the tools expect MS-DOS and are hardcoded as such.. There are ways of preparing a MS-DOS bootable flash disk, though it’s a little time consuming. See this post for more info on how to create a MS-DOS boot flash disk: http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/46707-ms-dos-bootable-flash-drive-create.html
However, there is another way. There exists an open source tool called flashrom that will update your computer’s BIOS for you, if it supports the chipset on the board. For motherboards of the 2005-2008 era, it shouldn’t be a problem to update. Flashrom comes bundled with many Linux distro’s, including Parted Magic, which is the distro I used to perform some updates. Updating the BIOS on a computer with flashrom is as simple as flashrom –w <filename> I’ve used it with some Foxconn 965x7AA and MSI P965 Neo motherboards in the last week, and it worked without a problem.
I must admit, I vastly prefer having the ability to flash a BIOS at boot, but flashrom is the next best tool. Now you don’t need to keep multiple versions of DOS based flashing tools around for each type of motherboard you want to flash. One more useful tool for any techie to have around when the need arises to flash an older computer.
Any computer is only as good as its power supply. It’s not something you’d necessarily think much about if you are buying an office full of computers for example, but it’s the most vital piece of equipment in the PC. No PSU, no working computer.
For many years, the quality of PSU’s in “white box” computers was just enough to get by. Mostly of the no name variety, the PSU’s had a laundry list of issues. Cables too short to properly reach areas, even inside a standard non exotic ATX sized case. Not enough connectors – usually SATA to be honest. Noisy cooling fans, and somewhat exaggerated power supply ratings.
I’ve had a number of these power supplies start dying this year at work. Although the supplies are just over 4 years old, many of them have died or are on the verge of doing so. Last week I replaced a PSU with a cooling fan that had totally seized up. The whole computer was seriously over heating, to the point where I’m not sure how it kept running for so long. However, despite replacing the PSU, I think the damage may have already been done to that box. Funny things happened during Windows installation, so I will need to troubleshoot and determine if the motherboard or graphics card have been damaged thanks to the power supply.
Other PSU’s have either developed an extremely noisy cooling fan or they struggle to provide enough juice to switch the computer on. While I suppose one could possibly lubricate the cooling fan, you’d need to open up the PSU itself, which is something I’m not comfortable with, given what’s inside. In a classroom, a noisy fan is seriously distracting, especially when a teacher is trying to talk, only to be half drowned out due to this noise. As for the other problem, that’s either due to capacitors no longer able to hold their charge, or some other issue with the PSU due to its age. Either way, the best course of action is to replace the PSU.
In short, my advice is simple: be prepared to spend a little more to get a quality name branded power supply, even for bulk orders like an office or a computer lab. Preferably, it has one large 12 or 14cm cooling fan in it, which is not only quieter than the normal 80cm fan, it also moves more air and is more efficient. It can be a bonus if the cables are sleeved, as this makes handling the cables inside the case a lot easier, and dust doesn’t sit in-between the individual cables that run to the power connectors. Also, a standard office or classroom PC for example, doesn’t need a 500W power supply. A good solid 350W power supply is more than enough, provided it’s from a name brand. We’ve come a long way from the power hungry Pentium 4 and D days.
I’ve had a copy of Fallout 3 for a long time now. I bought the Collectors Edition on a whim not long after the game out, and as I write this, Vault Boy is staring at me. Getting Fallout 3 working properly on Windows 7 on my new PC was a bit time consuming, including some aggravating bugs that took a while to hunt down. Note that I’m not using the Steam version, but rather the original version that came in the Collectors Edition lunch box.
- Install Fallout 3. This should go ahead without any hitches.
- Download the 1.7 patch, but do not install it yet. You can get the 1.7 patch from here.
- Download and install the latest Games for Windows Live runtime, available here. You don’t have to sign into the program, just have it installed. Without it, patch 1.7 doesn’t work properly, and Fallout 3 won’t launch.
- Install patch 1.7.
You may notice that Fallout 3 isn’t added to Games Explorer in Windows 7, despite it being Games for Windows certified. More irritating is that it was added to Games Explorer in Windows Vista. We can fix this by doing the following:
- Open up a command prompt with Administrative Privileges.
- Go to your Fallout 3 install directory.
- Enter GDFInstall /richext .fos /exe “<Path\To\>Fallout3.exe” GDFFallout3.dll
If the command was entered correctly, you should have a small dialog box popping up confirming success. If you now check Games Explorer, Fallout 3 should be there.
Lastly, I had a problem where my game would freeze up anywhere between 5-10 minutes playing time. It was particularly bad after entering a new building. The game music kept playing, but the game was frozen rock solid. A bit of searching on the net gave me some tweaks to make to your Fallout.ini file, located in C:\Users\username\Documents\My Games. Make the following changes:
- Find the line bUseThreadedAI=0, and change the 0 to 1.
- Directly below this line, insert the following line: iNumHWThreads=2
With those 2 tweaks, the game has been behaving solidly for me now, with no more crashing after 5-10 minutes. From what I gather, the Gamebryo engine used in Fallout 3 is pretty picky about what it will run on. The amount of cores in a modern PC is a bit more that what was around when Fallout 3 originally came out.
Hopefully, with these tweaks, you will get some enjoyment out of the game. I’m really glad Bethesda switched to the Creation engine for Skyrim, it’s been far less buggy for me than any of the games that used the Gamebryo engine. I had Fallout 3 installed on my old PC, but the sound crackling issues with my Creative X-Fi eventually made me give up and move onto other games. The game worked fine in Windows XP, but I had already made the move to Vista by then. I didn’t feel it was worth it to keep XP around for just one game, so I didn’t bother. I’m enjoying the game so far, but as usual with a large RPG, there are many more hours to go.
A week ago, I did the most insane things I’ve ever done to a piece of computer hardware: put it in the oven and bake it. It seems like an insane idea, but it worked, and it managed to bring a piece of equipment back from the dead. Let me explain.
Just over 2 years ago, I had an Asus 8800GTX graphics card in my old computer. It was an old card, but it was powerful and I was able to play every game I wanted to. I had the card in service for about 2 years give or take. I got home from a conference one evening and started playing Mass Effect 2. About 20 minutes into the game, my screen went to hell. Stripes all over the place, purple, pink and blue blocks and all sorts of other anomalies. I immediately shut the computer down and pulled the power for an hour, hoping it would fix the problem. Sadly, it didn’t help. After restarting the computer, the same corruption was still present.
I concluded that the card was dead, and I proceeded to order an EVGA GTX480 card, which is still going strong to this day. I put the 8800GTX into my cupboard, having no idea what to do with the thing.
Later on, I came across people who had managed to fix their problem by baking the card. Apparently, the solder Nvidia were using on the 8 series cards was problematic, leading to this problem with many cards produced around that time. Baking the card heats and softens up the soldering, allowing it to fill any micro cracks and fissures that caused the corruption in the first place. I eventually screwed up my courage to bake the card, as I had nothing to lose, but if it worked, I would have brought something back from the dead that cost me a lot of money back in the day.
WARNING: Only attempt to do this if your card has solid capacitors. Liquid capacitors may leak, bulge or explode in the oven at the baking temperature.
These are the steps I took:
- Strip the card down to the absolute basics and clean off all thermal paste on the chip and RAM chips. In my case, I had a 3rd party heat sink and RAM heat sinks, so I removed those. I didn’t have any special thermal cleansers, so I used raw freshly squeezed lemon juice, after which I wiped the surface again with water to remove any trace of the lemon juice.
- Place a sheet of aluminium foil on a shallow baking tray, and make 4 rolled up foil balls. Place the graphics card on the foil balls, making sure the card balances properly. Try to make sure that the balls don’t touch any wiring traces on the card.
- Move any racks in the oven, so that the baking tray will sit as close to the middle of the oven as possible. This will lead to a more even heat distribution.
- Preheat your oven up to 200°C. Don’t put the card in until the oven until it is ready.
- Bake the card for 8-10 minutes.
- Remove the card and let it cool for about 90 minutes.
- Reassemble, and test the card.
I baked mine for 8 minutes, let it sit 1 minute more with the oven power off for a total of 9 minutes. After that I let it cool off for the 90 minutes. The next day, I applied fresh thermal paste to the stock heat sink/fan that came with the card, screwed everything in and proceeded to install the card in my old computer. It was a nervous time waiting for the computer to boot and an image to display on the screen, but when it did, it was worth it. The image was clean and back to the way it was meant to be. No stripes, blocks or corruption.
- I haven’t had a chance to do any sort of stress testing on the card, nor do I know how long this fix will last for. It might last for 6 months, or it may last for a lot longer.
- For anyone who has had this problem, I recommend giving the baking method a try. So long as it isn’t your primary graphics card, you don’t have much to lose, but in turn, you stand to gain a repaired card.
In the digital game distribution world, there are many products that have come and gone over the years. Some have managed to survive with a small audience base, while others came, shone brightly for a while and then died. One name stands above all others however: Valve’s Steam. I’m not the biggest fan of Steam in the world for a few reasons, but it works well and has changed the industry probably for the better.
EA sold their games through Steam, but starting with The Old Republic and Battlefield 3, they no longer provided their games on Steam, but were instead forcing people to use Origin, their rebranded attempt at taking on Steam. For the most part, Origin has worked ok for me, but its features are lacking compared to Steam. In particular, the one that is grating me the most right now is the lack of a proper game backup/restore option.
I’ve recently just built a new computer for myself (more on that soon), and one of the things I needed to do was to set up Steam and Origin again on the new PC. With Steam, restoring backed up games off of my old PC was a piece of cake. Click on the Steam menu button in Steam, select Backup and Restore Games and follow the prompts to easily restore your games. Worked like a charm.
Origin has no such ability. A search found out that you could try copying the existing folder off the old PC onto the new PC and run some setup file in a specific directory to reinstall the game, but this file didn’t exist on my PC. Reading through other links revealed that other people also didn’t have this file. In the end, I was able to get Mass Effect 3 reinstalled by pointing the location Origin uses to install games to the new correct directory. I right clicked on the Mass Effect 3 game art in Origin and said Install. This proceeded to reinstall the game using the existing folder I had copied earlier.
However, after installation, it kept trying to download all the DLC I’ve purchased for the game, which is a multi gigabyte affair. After forcing enough cancels, it seems to have settled down a little.
Just when I thought I would be good to go, Origin wanted to start downloading every piece of Mass Effect 2 DLC I own and install it. I registered Mass Effect 2 with Origin, so that if my game disks are ever damaged, I can download the game for free. However, I already have all the DLC packs downloaded and saved, so I don’t need Origin to download and install them for me. I cancel every time I open Origin, but it keeps attempting to download the DLC files.
Origin has potential. I like its interface, as well as its speed. As a launcher of games, it’s pretty decent. However, many of the games that it supports managing in return have no idea Origin exists, so there is a disconnected feeling when playing an older game. Contrast that with Steam, where every game on the platform is Steam aware. If EA want to seriously compete in the digital download market, they need to ramp up the quality of the Origin client. They don’t even need to copy all of Steam’s features – just get the rest of the basics in place. It really isn’t too much to ask for. After all, the more competition there is in the industry, the more we as customers benefit.
My Origin collection of games. Note that only Mass Effect 3 fully supports Origin. The others were “redeemed” games in case my physical disks ever get damaged/lost/stolen
Events this past week made me realise just how useful it would be if a school had a dedicated lab environment for testing out software, hardware and updates before they went live onto the production network. Unfortunately, such a luxury is something that few schools would be able to afford for various reasons, mainly lack of space and lack of funds.
This past week, I approved some Windows Updates through WSUS. They downloaded fine and were distributed without much fuss. Until they hit a certain combination of software that is. Computers that were running Windows 7, as well as NOD32 version 4.2.58 were affected. The updates would install, but upon reboot, the computer would hang at “Configuring Updates – 15 percent complete” Through sheer luck, one of the computers I was attempting to solve this issue on blue screened, and I was able to see the faulting file causing the issues.
Using logic, I could see that other Windows 7 computers that received the updates didn’t have an issue. The major difference between the computers was the NOD32 version on the computers. The eventual solution to the problem was to boot the computers in Safe Mode, let the updates revert themselves, boot back into normal Windows, upgrade NOD32, reboot, install updates and reboot one last time.
It hit me after the initial crisis how such a situation could probably have been avoided if we had a test lab. With a small selection of identical computers to the production network, we could have tested the impact of updates. Unfortunately, the wide range of computers on our network means that we will never have true uniformity.
At least at the end of this year, we will be purchasing 40 new computers for our main lab, which will have a cascade effect on our older equipment mostly being phased out, something I’m quite glad about. Pentium 4’s, Pentium D’s and older Core 2 based computers need to be retired now.
My last post was about our intention to remove numerous VGA splitters around the school and replace them with DVI-VGA converters instead. So far, we’ve managed to pull out 11 splitters, but have now reached a bit of a dead end.
What should have been a completed project by now has stalled because the graphics cards in the majority of the workstations in the classes cannot clone the output. Granted, these are Geforce 6200 Turbocache cards, dating back to late 2005/early 2006, but it’s still annoying to have discovered this after disconnecting the splitter and getting our clothes full of horrible dust.
It turns out that the cards made by MSI won’t do dual display, despite the fact that the chipset supports it. Another classroom had a Gigabyte based 6200 card, which worked fine after a BIOS update to the card. Another classroom had a much newer 8400GS based card, though this one had a slightly different problem – dual display worked, but it wasn’t stable. It kept losing the configuration. Unfortunately, there is no BIOS update for this card on Gigabyte’s website.
The long and short of this exercise so far is that just because a graphics card has dual outputs, it doesn’t mean that the card can power two displays at once. Luckily at the end of the year, the computers we’ll be putting into classrooms have a different brand of card in them that should allow us to remove many more splitters from classrooms.