Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Foxconn GeForce 9600GT

At last!!! I can play games (at least a few!) in their highest graphics detail. This was a good deal from Barclays; Rs. 14,200/=. After so many queries to Gayan and Thusitha (thanks guys!) I decided to settle for 9600 instead of 9800 since it gave me a reasonable performance for a good price.

NVIDIA 9600GT/512MB/GDDR3/256bit/Dual DVI/HDTV-out

Vista performance score: 5.9
(They have provided drivers for 32bit and 64bit systems of XP and Vista)

Note. The card works on Ubuntu as well. When I enabled the desktop effects it automatically downloaded and installed the driver. So no problem there.

Foxconn GeForce 9600GT (OC)
(Note the "OC" sign, which means Over Clocked. This is supposed to give a performance boost but I don't know its long term effects)

This was a big one. It's about half the size of my motherboard! Just like Gayan, I had to remove my hard disks before plugging in the card to make room. They sure need to make these things less bulkier!

Power Input
I'm not used to graphics cards much. I had to separately supply power through the provided convector and it needed 2 power sockets. So a really power hungry device. If you have a server power unit like Thusitha the power unit has a separate socket for these kinds of graphics cards.

Display Outputs
The card only had 2 digital outs and one TV-out. They have provided 2 DVI-to-Analog converters. So I had to plug the monitor through that converter.

Game play
So far, I haven't been able to put my hands on latest games. But I tried NFS Carbon and Half Life 2-Episode One. Those could be run at full steam all settings maxed out very smoothly. A resolution of 1600X1200 and Anti Aliasing 4X seems nothing for the card on these games.

For the record, I thought of skipping NFS ProStreet and go for NFS Undercover. ProStreet seems a bit boring for me.

Here are 2 screenshots from Carbon and HL2-Ep01.

Screenshots of GPU-Z. Core clock is 600MHz (can be over clocked up to 1200MHz). Memory Clock is 1000Mhz (can be over clocked up to 1200MHz). Foxconn has provided a small tool for over clocking but it cannot control GPU fan speed.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Performance Monitoring in Windows Vista

Most of us like to hate Vista! But with enough system resources and good device drivers, Vista can deliver a really smooth user experience. In addition to having a fancy UI, Vista includes some very powerful tools that system administrators can use to monitor system activity. These tools will help you to dig into system programs and startup lists and fine tune your system performance.

Windows Defender: Software Explorer

Windows Defender is a crappy tool which comes with windows to detect malicious programs. Due to its uselessness I have turned it off. But Defender has a tool called Software Explorer which is way better than using "msconfig" and "Task manager" to monitor running processes.

Go to Control Panel -> Programs -> Windows Defender -> Tools ->Software Explorer

Startup Programs

This gives a more clear and detailed view than "msconfig" tool. Since it has the ability to group Manufacturer wise, you can clearly focus on those no-name entries which could most probably be viruses.

Network Connected programs

This shows a complete list of progams has network connectivity. To view detailed information about network communciation, you can use the Reliability and Performance Monitor.

Performance Information and Tools

Go to Control Panel -> System and Maintenance -> Performance Information and Tools -> Advanced Tools (on the left pane)

These include some tools which give detailed performance information reports.

Reliability and Performance Monitor

Click "Open Reliability and Performance Monitor" in Advanced performance tools.

Network monitor showing connections made by uTorrent

This is one-stop place to monitor detailed system wide activity. You can monitor Network activity, Memory activity, Disk usage activity and so on. One interesting feature is that you can see details about all the open files and their disk access at any given time.

Files opened by every process and their read/write activity

System Stability Chart

Windows collects system statistics over time and keeps a history of events in the event log. Vista includes a chart feature which draws a chart over time which varies due to system changes.

Go to "Reliability Monitor" in the left pane.

Bootup performance monitoring in Event log

Event log includes detailed statics for application and services startup times (including Windows boot time) so you can identify which applications delays windows startup. Windows automatically notifies you if a certain application has taken an unusuall amount of time to start.

Click "View performance details in the Event log" in Advanced performance tools.

Ok that's the lot. Using these tools you can administer your system to identify any unwanted activity. And with better hardware resources and drivers, I think Vista is a better OS than XP. User experience wise and system administration wise.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

4GB RAM issue with 32 bit Operating Systems

I recently upgraded my old desktop and came across with this interesting issue. This would be useful for many of us since most of us are still using 32 bit operating systems. Just take this article as an early warning.

Upgrade configuration:
  • Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz, 1066FSB, 3MB L2, E7300 (arround Rs. 14,000/=)
  • 2GB x 2 RAM (Dual Channel, 800MHz) (arround Rs. 3800/= x 2)
  • Intel DG31PR Motherboard (arround Rs. 7500/=)

This issue I had was having 4GB of memory. Well, I've reached the maximum addressable memory limit of 32 bit systems, right? So I should be able to use all 4GB as memory. But unfortunately, that was not the case. All I have is 3.2GB of memory on 32 bit Windows XP and 32 bit Ubuntu 8.10.

So where did my memory go?
Theoretically, the 32 bit systems are limited to 4GB of addressable memory. The problem is you can't allocate all those 4GB address space to RAM alone. Many other devices connected to the mother board (including the memory in video card) are mapped to the same 4GB address space. So there should be an address range dedicated to address those devices. So you are left with only 3.2GB of RAM address space.

According to what I've read from the internet, you have to use a 64 bit OS (I'm planning to put Vista 64 bit on my one) to utilize the full RAM address space. There's another facility called "Physical Address Extension (PAE)" provided by the motherboard to allow applications to address more than 4GB of memory on 32 bit systems. But I'm not clear about what it does and it seems to have it's own issues with device drivers.

Things to keep in mind
Maybe I have spent too much on RAM! Anyway having 3GB RAM this way is better than having 2GB and 1GB RAM sticks since dual channel gives you performance advantage. It won't be a problem at all if you are going to use a 64 bit OS (that's what I'm going to do). If that didn't work due to any reason I'll have to be stuck with a 32 bit OS and 3.2GB of RAM. Anyway that also should be enough for most current games.

more on this later...

As Gayan has pointed out, 64 bit OS alone cannot support more than 4GB. The motherboard should have a feature called "Memory Remapping" to map device memory addresses above 4GB (see first comment). It appears my motherboard doesn't support that feature. So 3.2GB is more of a hardware limitation for me.

Update 2
I tried adding /PAE switch to XP 32 bit. It still showed me 3.2GB of RAM. Maybe in the background it's using all 4GB or whatever. Anyway, Vista 64 bit SP1 seems to have fixed the problem. It showed me 4GB RAM after I installed it. I hope this would be the end of my problem.

Update 3
This is how it is shown in Windows 7 RC 32bit. Avoids user confusion and easilly understandable.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ubuntu 8.10

Well, well, well, after a series of posts on iPhone, here's one for Ubuntu 8.10. I just went through a quick trip to see what are the new features that is directly noticeable (other than those small small version number changes!)

Tip: You can make Ubuntu interface significantly nicer by making changes to system font sizes. In laptops "Subpixel smoothing" works great. These settings gave me a nice professional look for the overall interface.

  1. Wallpaper is definitely better than Gutsy.
  2. As usual, networking is faster than windows.
  3. It took my laptop's ATI X200M video driver automatically. Desktop effects enabled. (I like that)
  4. My sound card is also working fine. (Skype runs well)
  5. Nice softer look in Human theme.
  6. One click Shut Down menu. (I love it!)

  7. A Shut Down dialog box is available via System -> Shut Down

  8. Revamped Network Manager 0.7 (I wished they didn't)

    This is a total disaster. Hey, I can see and edit my MAC address and MTU! Wonderful ha! I know so many home users who needs to see the MAC address of their NIC. Last time I checked, lot of users were having problems with packet fragmentation problems and MTU. I take it that changing the IP address is not so important! Because it's in the 3rd tab! After MAC and after 802.1x security. This will make things really easy for novice users!

    And it has absolutely NO MEMORY at all. It doesn't save any of my network settings. Is this a joke? This screenshot shows my 'ifconfig' output and IPv4 settings. The IP address and subnet masks were all set here moments ago! When I reopen the network manager settings are all gone. It's better if they send a fix for this but this is certainly not the way to handle major releases.

    It's significantly better if they kept the old Network Manager. But they just upgrade for the sake of upgrading.
  9. USB Startup Disk
    Now you can create a CD image of Ubuntu on the USB drive very easily and use that to install ubuntu.
Well that's what you see at the first glance. The only bad impression I had was the new Network Manager which is not good at all! It seems Shuttleworth is taking good features from "Apple" GUIs and integrating with Ubuntu, which is a good thing. The new shut down menu is like the one in MacOS X. And the new Disk usage bar in the installer look like the one in iTunes.

This is the iPhone disk usage bar in iTunes:

That's it. Share your experience!