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Hardware

KB2836988 for Windows 8 may cause BSOD on some AMD chipsets

After a recent Windows 8 update, my computer refused to boot properly, but attempted an Automatic Repair, which was unsuccessful. The system would flash a blue screen of death and reboot with no more illuminating error message. I also encountered this when booting from the Windows 8 DVD – sudden blue screens with no error messages.

My Windows 8 installation is on a SSD on a system with an AMD chipset, and I had to switch the SSD to IDE mode access to get any sort of stability. After I did this, Automatic Repair had a longer attempt to fix it, but still ended unsuccessfully with a message informing me to check WINDOWS\System32\Logfiles\Srt\Srttrail.txt. Removing the SSD and examining this file on my laptop showed me the following error message:

Boot critical file E:\Windows\System32\drivers\amdsbs.sys is corrupt

Replacing that file with a fresh copy did not appear to help. To get Windows to boot properly, I had to boot to a command prompt (clicking the Advanced Options button from the screen with the Srttrail.txt error message) and use the dism.exe tool with this command:

dism.exe /image:D:\ /cleanup-image /revertpendingactions

where D: is the Windows drive.

After doing this and rebooting, on the next boot Windows detected a failed update and reverted changes. I was then able to enter Windows.

The update at fault appears to be KB2836988 and I suspect it may be causing problems with systems using the AMD 700 series chipset. Other people seem to be experiencing similar problems. We will see whether Microsoft do anything to address the problem; in the meantime, I’ve turned off Automatic Updates, and am avoiding that particular update for the moment.

Adobe Flash Player 10.1 conflicts with ATI Sideport RAM

Adobe Flash Player 10.1’s HD hardware acceleration feature can cause a green-screen error when attempting to play online high-definition (and even some standard-definition) video, such as on Youtube and Vimeo. It appears that it conflicts with the Sideport memory found on some motherboard with integrated ATI graphics, such as the Asus M4A785TD-V EVO with its ATI HD 4200 chip.

The  "Enable hardware acceleration" checkboxThere are two workarounds, neither ideal. The simplest is to right-click the video, choose “Settings”, and uncheck the “Enable hardware acceleration box” found under the “Display” tab. This, of course, means that the whole point of the Flash 10.1 update—HD hardware acceleration—is disabled.

The other option, and in my mind the preferable one, is to disable Sideport memory in the BIOS. In the AMI BIOS for the above-mentioned Asus board, the relevant options are found under Advanced → Chipset → Internal Graphics → Internal Graphics Mode → UMA. Of course, this ‘solution’ is also irritating: the Sideport memory then becomes another feature paid-for-but-disused.

The best option, is, of course, dependent on Adobe/ATI (whether the problem lies with Flash or with the ATI drivers isn’t clear) updating their software to fix the clash. Here’s hoping they actually do fix it, otherwise the users—as so often happens—will be left feeling shortchanged.

Dell will provide free Vista x64 disks for customers with Vista x32

It seems that if you’ve bought a computer from Dell with Windows Vista 32-bit, they’ll provide, upon request, disks of Vista 64-bit.

It can be a bit of a struggle, though. The key, it seems is to quote the following document to them: DSN Document ID: 158098 (Operating System Changes and Operating System Swaps – Dell Global Policy).

When I asked back in April 2009, my Dell Chat online support conversation went something like this:

Liam: “I need a copy of Vista Ultimate 64-bit to replace Vista Ultimate 32-bit.”
Agent: “Can you tell me which particular Windows came with your system?”
Liam Cromar: “Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit.”
Agent: “The cd or dvd installers we have are the ones that came with the system.”
Agent: “We can only send the Vista Ultimate 32 bit.”
Liam: “Thanks. I understand, however, that Dell Global Policy specifies that the customer is to be provided, on request, with two copies of the 64-bit versions as well. This is according to DSN Document ID: 158098 (Operating System Changes and Operating System Swaps – Dell Global Policy).”
Agent: “Thanks let me check if we can provide you.”
Agent: “Let’s check if your system is capable of having 64 bit. Click Start, click Run, type MSinfo32, and click Enter Look under the system type and see what it is listed.”
Liam: “X86-based PC.”
Agent: “This computer is not compatible with 64 bit OS. For Dell computers when you checked the system type and it list X86-based PC, it is only for 32 bit OS. For computers compatible with 64 bit, you will see X64-based PC.”
Liam: “With all due respect, I am an IT consultant and I know perfectly well that this machine IS compatible with a 64-bit OS. What appears in the System Information utility only refers to what OS is CURRENTLY installed on the computer. Since it CURRENTLY has a 32-bit OS on it, it says X86-based PC. To find out whether it could support a 64-bit OS you have to check the underlying hardware, in particular the motherboard and processor.”
Agent: “Thanks for additional information. Please give me a minute.”
Agent: “All indications point to 32 bit compatibility only. I have double check this and I got the same answer.”
Liam: “What indications?”
Agent: “We have reference where we can check compatibility with a certain system. No 64 bit OS is listed as compatible.”
Liam: “It has a Core 2 Quad processor, definitely 64-bit compatible. Please tell me exactly what is claimed not to be 64-bit compatible.”
Agent: “Let me check your processor information.”
Liam Cromar: “Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600.”
Agent: “Please give me a few minutes again thank you.”
Agent: “Thank you for waiting. Your request was approved. Since the warranty is active, I can send you a Vista 64 bit OS. I apologize for the delay in approving your request.”

Note the amusing attempt to try and persuade me that 64-bit Vista would not be compatible. All’s well that ends well, however; the disk arrived quickly.

Note also that I have no idea whether this policy is still in force, or whether it has been changed. If you want to try this, don’t leave it too long.

Much credit and thanks go to the moderator Chris M on the Dell forums who explained the necessary document to refer to on the Technet forums.

Scythe Ninja works well with Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600—even passively

I had cause recently to upgrade the cooler on a Q6600, and chose to use an old Scythe Ninja that was lying about spare.

Under Prime95 load, with the stock Intel cooler I was reaching high 70s. With the Scythe Ninja, high 60s…in passive mode.

Considering how old this cooler is (note that it’s the original Ninja, not the Ninja II) I was immensely impressed with its performance. I had been prepared to add a 120mm Zalman fan but saw no need to: it’s rarely placed under maximum load as it is. The only fans in the case were the graphics card fan and the PSU fan, which is starting to annoy me now noise-wise.

What can I say? Not much. If you’re an average end-user who hasn’t yet changed from the stock CPU cooler, don’t look further. Seriously, buy a Scythe Ninja II. I know what I’ll be looking for for my next build.

Has anyone else any positive or negative experiences with the Ninja?

Asus M3A76-CM motherboard review

The Asus M3A76-CM is a decent yet mildly disappointing affair. A mATX offering, it can’t seem to decide whether to aim to please HTPC owners or overclockers, and pleases neither.

A fairly bare motherboard box
A fairly bare motherboard box

Notable features include:

  • Socket AM2+: Athlon, Phenom and Phenom II processor support
  • DDR2 1066 support (for two of the four channels)
  • Maximum of 8GB RAM supported
  • Onboard graphics (ATI HD3000) with Hybrid CrossFireX Support
  • Onboard sound
  • RAID support
  • HyperTransport 3.0
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • PCIe 2.0

A full list can be found on Asus’s website.

Processor and RAM

Apparently supports Phenom, Phenom II and Athlon processors. Mine is currently running with the AMD Athlon X2 7750+ Black Edition. As for RAM, it does support DDR 1066, but for only officially one DIMM on each channel, making a maximum of 4GB. You might get away with more, but it’s at your own risk. The memory can be run in Ganged or Unganged mode, the latter providing more performance, in theory, for multi-core processors. I’m running a Corsair 4GB kit of 2 x 2GB DDR2 1066MHz/PC2-8500 XMS2 with 5-5-5-15 timings at 2.1V. Crucial RAM should be good as well, though.

Also useful is the provision of AMD-V technology, which offers the potential for virtualisation. In other words, on Windows 7 Pro/Ultimate, you should able to run Windows XP Mode.

Chipset

The M3A76-CM uses the AMD 760G chipset and is coupled with the SB710 southbridge. This provides RAID facilities in the form of RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1, and JBOD arrangements. Note, however, that RAID 5 is not available – for that, you need to look at the SB750 or some other similar chipset.

Unfortunately, XP doesn’t like this RAID setup. I had massive issues trying to install Windows XP Professional SP3 on a RAID 0 array. Neither loading the necessary drivers from a floppy disk nor slipstreaming them worked. Setup would fail with the message: “Setup did not find any hard disk drives installed in your computer.” After a lot of head-bashing, I tried Windows 7 RC on the first day it was released. The RAID 0 array was picked up by Windows 7 straight away without any quibbles whatsoever. Thumbs up to 7 for its built-in support.

The 760G is a cut-down 780G: it lacks the high-definition hardware acceleration of the 780G. Seeing that one of the main aims of this board might be the HTPC market, this could be a deal-breaker. You really don’t want a CPU fan going at full whack during a quiet period of your latest Blu-ray acquisition. Budget for a decent quiet CPU fan such as the Scythe Ninja II (or its smaller brother, the Scythe Mini Ninja, more suitable for HTPCs) if you must buy this board.

The other main issue I have with the chipset is with its limited overclocking facilities. I understand that if this is not aimed at enthusiasts, there may be little point in releasing enthusiast options. However, in this case, the SB710 hardware would be able to support Advanced Clock Calibration (ACC), which has the potential to unlock disabled cores in Phenom X3 processors and even Athlon Black Editions…and what have Asus done? Not enabled it. If the hardware can support it, why not provide the BIOS option? It’s annoying. As of BIOS version 1001, no ACC option is available.

Onboard sound and graphics

Not much to say here. It features onboard video in the form of the ATI HD3000. Interestingly, it does allow Hybrid CrossFireX, which allows another compatible ATI card to be paired with the onboard graphics for supposedly better performance. Personally, without having tested it, I’d be concerned about memory bottlenecks; however, I’m not a gamer, and would be interested to hear if it does provide benefit.

On the plus side, the onboard DVI connection is HDCP compliant, so provided you’re running Vista or above, you should be able to play Blu-ray films with little problem.

Conclusion

The Asus M3A76-CM is a mixed bag. It provides a decent array of features, and is probably adequate for normal business use. Yet it has a below-average northbridge paired with an above-average southbridge. It ends up just being frustrating, though: it’s being held back by a string of underwhelming BIOSes that fail to make full use of the hardware. Asus need to realise that since it’s not quite good enough for the HTPC market, it should be made as palatable as possible to overclockers. And that means enabling ACC.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Asus M3A76-CM doesn’t yet support ACC, despite its SB710 southbridge

It’s pretty annoying, but it appears that the Asus M3A76-CM motherboard doesn’t have an option in its BIOS to enable Advanced Clock Calibration. This is despite its southbridge supposedly supporting ACC.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, it isn’t for the average user, but if you’re an enthusiast and happen to have a dual-core CPU like the AMD Athlon X2 7750+ Black Edition, it certainly is. This CPU actually has two extra disabled cores, that have reputedly been enabled by flicking ACC on. You can imagine how useful this is if you happen to edit high-definition video, for example!

If anyone from Asus happens to be reading – small chance, I know – please do introduce this feature to the board in a BIOS update, if possible. I would imagine it would certainly boost the board’s popularity.