Is Your Motherboard Vista Ready?

Vista is out, as most of you would probably know. While most PC users won’t probably upgrade to Vista anytime soon, Microsoft is banking on new PC buyers and business users to get Vista. But if you’re looking to upgrade your system components, you might want to make sure you would be Vista ready if and by the time you decide to upgrade. In view of this, manufacturers of motherboards, processors, graphics cards and other peripherals, are labelling their products as “Vista ready” as a sign that consumers can expect these to perform well under the various flavors of Vista. After all, Vista comes quite heavy on the hardware requirements.

Extreme Tech reviews two motherboards labeled as Vista ready. One is meant for Intel CPUs, and another for AMD.

We review two boards, one for Intel processors and one for AMD CPUs. These are the M2N32-SLI Premium Vista Edition and P5B Premium Vista Edition mobos. As it turns out, these motherboards really aren’t that new—they just have a couple of extra features grafted onto them.

The main Vista-oriented features of these two boards are Screen Duo and ASAP.

Screen Duo is basically in support for SlideShow, which is a Vista feature that provides for a small, secondary display that displays status messages when the PC is in a low-power state. SlideShow is actually designed primarily for laptop PCs, where the idea is to embed a small PDA-sized screen on the lid of the laptop, which can be activated when it’s in a low-power state, or when the lid is closed. SlideShow uses gadgets, similar to Vista’s sidebar gadgets, which display information like photos, appointments, and the like.

In the case of ASUS, Screen Duo is actually a USB-connected device that acts as the secondary screen to display information.

ASAP, meanwhile, is the ASUS Accelerated Propeller, which is flash memory connected internally via USB, and meant for Vista’s ReadyBoost cache. This is meant to help speed up the system by caching disk reads. If you use the board on OSes other than Vista, these will recognize ASAP as a USB drive. ASAP is only good for 512 MB, though, and is not upgradeable.

The verdict?

While we applaud ASUS for trying to innovate in the crowded motherboard space, it’s our opinion that the two Vista-specific features—ScreenDuo and ASAP—fall a little short. We can understand that a wireless ScreenDuo and a larger ASAP cache would have cost more. But as it stands, these two intriguing features are just too limited.

Great ideas, though. Hopefully ASUS will further develop these, either as optional components, or as improved versions (i.e., wireless ScreenDuo and upgradeable ASAP cache).

Tips for Choosing the Right CPU

Whether you’re building your own PC, buying off-the-shelf, or buying from build-to-order manufacturers, it’s a good idea to have an adequate grasp of what CPU you should by buying. While it may seem that the notion of “faster is better” is the best advice, it’s not always about raw processing speed and power. In reality, a computer’s performance is not only dependent on the CPU’s clock speed. And in this case, buying the fastest CPU might just prove to be too expensive, that you tend to scrimp on memory, storage, and other options, which could prove to be bottlenecks to performance.

Extreme tech gives ten tips on choosing the right CPU here. This is meant for those building a family PC for home use (which may sometimes extend to work use, if you do take work home with you).

We’ve alluded to this concept of system balance throughout this article, but it’s good to close with a specific plea: build a balanced system.
CPU Balance

By “balanced,” we mean “balanced for your needs.” Those needs, as we’ve seen, may differ. If you do a lot of video editing, then a midrange 3D graphics card, coupled with a beefy CPU and lots of memory, may be the right solution. If you’re really just doing web browsing, word processing, and light photo editing, your needs will be more modest—you may even be able to get by with just integrated graphics.

A balanced system will maximize the cost/benefit ratio of all the components. Specific components won’t spend a lot of time idling, waiting for other subsystems to complete their individual tasks. Your system will work harmoniously, and you’ll feel a lot better about how much you spent.

Extreme tech asks prospective buyers and/or builders to consider primarily how the computer will be used. This way, you can pattern your purchase after your own (and your family’s) usage patterns, and also the applications that you use. For instance, high-end games might require a beefy CPU, but most of these would perform better with a high-end graphics card. If you’re a heavy multitasker, more memory will help improve performance, rather than a very fast CPU (going dual core or even more also helps). If you’re a heavy Photoshop user, you might benefit more with an additional hard drive for swap files, rather than a super fast CPU.

In the end, it’s all about your goal for the system. Sometimes, you cannot rely on marketing material, such as those that say you can get by on a slower processor and a smaller amount of RAM if you’re just doing documents and web browsing (since you’re likely to be a heavy multi-tasker, too). So choosing the right CPU takes smarts to decide on that right balance.

Samsung Announces 64GB Flash-Based Hard Drive

Here’s some good news for laptop enthusiasts and modders. Samsung has recently announced its latest 1.8-inch solid-state disc (SSD) with capacities up to 64 Gigabytes. Sure, you can get hundreds of gigs’ worth with today’s laptop hard drives. But with this one, you get the advantage of solid state technology. This means lower power consumption, and less likelihood of moving parts crashing. And it’s reportedly faster than regular laptop 5400 RPM or even 7200 RPM hard drives.

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The SSD is based on an 8-gigabit and single-level cell NAND flash technology, which means it should outperform traditional flash-based solid-state technologies. The read and write speeds have improved by 20% and 60% respectively, compared to the 32GB SLC-flash based drives that Samsung introduced in 2006.

Samsung also foresees that aside from being ideal laptop hard drives, these SSDs would likewise be ideal storage solutions for other mobile devices like PDAs, digital camcorders and personal navigation systems. Once Samsung develops hundred gigabyte-level SSDs, these will also be marketed for use with servers. These hard drives are meant to be drop-in replacements, meaning they can be plugged in to existing laptop parallel ATA ports.

Samsung plans to begin production of the 64GB SSD by second quarter of this year.

More RAM vs. Faster RAM

When I bought my laptop late last year, came with only a 256 MB DDR1 memory runing at 333 MHz (PC2700). It was a low-end laptop, so I wouldn’t expect anything bigger or faster. But of course, upgrades were essential, so the day after I bought it, I immediately bought bigger RAM modules. This time, the upgrade was for an additional 512 MB, but running at 400 MHz (PC3200).

I was actually looking for something to match the 333, but since the price difference wasn’t much (and the shop actually ran out of PC2700 SODIMM chips), I went for the PC3200 one. Now one dilemma I had was whether to remove the existing PC2700 chip so I can enjoy the 512MB stick running at full speed on 400MHz.

Sure, putting in both RAM modules together will give me 768MB of RAM, but they would both run at 333MHz. I’m sure my laptop’s Itel 915GM based motherboard can run at 400MHz, so I was thinking of ditching the additional 256MB.

It’s a question of more slower RAM versus faster but less RAM.

But then most other laptop enthusiasts I asked told me I should stick to more RAM in this case. If you’re considering something below 1 GB, which for my purposes is already sufficient (I mostly do writing work and rarely any gaming nor video editing), you would be better off with more RAM rather than faster but less (i.e., 512MB running at 400 MHz). That’s because with less RAM, your system would most likely have to access the swap file more often. That means hard drive access, which is definitely slower than the slowest of RAM speeds.

If you’re considering something bigger than 1 GB of RAM, then you’re most likely doing some intensive gaming or video editing. For those applications faster RAM and more RAM are definitely a must. In that case, then you should probably spend the additional dough and get yourself more, faster RAM.

Dual Channel Vs. Single Memory Configuration

You often see it in marketing materials: DDRII. A lot of laptop and desktop manufacturers seem to flaunt dual channel DRAM these days. But what does it really mean? Should we succumb to marketing hype?

Theoretically, a dual channel configuration will reduce bottlenecks in processing since it will double the amount of available memory bandwidth. Instead of simply having a single channel through which data passes, a second parallel channel is opened. With these working simultaneously, the bottleneck problem is solved. However, in most real world applications (like productivity/office and even some gaming applications), this might not be such an issue.

Here’s a review on associatedcontent.com, where the author did some benchmarking between using a single 1 GB chip versus two 512 MB chips in dual channel configuration. The conclusion: the difference is negligible.

As you can see from the charts that the differences are there but they are not that earth shattering. The trend for the memory tests show the dual channel memory modules does make a difference between one single memory module and two in the dual channel sockets of the motherboard. The PCMark05 tests show not much of a difference in the total score between one set of memory modules or even the difference between the 1 gigabyte and 512 megabyte tests.

The biggest differences are the dual channel with two memory sticks but they do not necessarily need to be from the same company as the results of the two memory modules from separate companies show. In the PCMark05 tests the best scores came from the two memory modules regardless of brand. The one gigabyte of Crucial memory did do a little better than the single modules of 512MB memory but this test does not really measure the added memory just the performance of the memory.

So next time, be careful about the marketing hype. If you think you really need a dual channel configuration, you’re probably doing some high end gaming or video processing. Otherwise, single channel should suffice.

Mounting hard drives backwards?

case.jpgReading through my favorite pc forum sites, I encountered this thread about mounting your hard disk drives backwards .For many casual PC users the concept of mounting a hard drive backwards may sound very strange and even impractical. First of all, practically everyone has seen hard drives inserted only one way, with the pins sticking out into the inside of the case and not facing the front of the case. For them, the very idea alone will be quite hard to grasp. Secondly, with the pins facing the front of the case, it will be virtually impossible to get at the pins and cables without physically removing the hard drive from the hard drive bays – a very cumbersome task.

But why do PC case modders do this? For the very simple reason of better cable management. By actually putting the hard drive backwards all of the pins will be hidden by the drive bay and the front of the case, what you end up seeing is the front of the hard drive itself which is just one smooth and level piece. From an aesthetic point of view, it is a definite winner. I have seen a modded case that used this kind of solution and it really does look pretty. Additionally, putting the cables at the front allows for more creative solutions to actually hide those cables from view, which results in a very clean looking case. I have seen one modder do this and he was able to manage the cable in such a way that at first look you would think he was not using any cables except the wires that run from the PSU to the motherboard. It looked absolutely awesome.

A good newbie resource

006.jpgI have always contended that there should always be a way to make it easier for a person to do research or to find the information that he needs without jumping from one website to another. The most rudimentary of researchers will already tell you that researching for needed information is not as easy as it looks. When you research on the internet you need to employ so many skills. You need analytical skills in order to think of the best words and phrases you can use as search strings for your research. After you have received the results, you will need to use your detective skills in order to pinpoint the information that you will really need amidst the tremendous amount of pages that could possibly be generated by your search.A central repository of needed information is thus a very welcome concept and one that I am constantly on the lookout for. Whenever I do encounter sites or pages like these I immediately bookmark it for future reference.

It was a pleasant surprise when I saw this particular forum section in ocforums.com. The series of FAQs on various important topics that are PC related will definitely be a great help for those who are still new to PCs. The various threads in the subsection tackle practically all of the important topics that newbies will likely ask, like questions regarding drivers, power, storage, memory, among others. This is a great resource especially for those who are still quite unfamiliar about how computers work. A good read of the threads would be enough for a person to actually learn the basics of at least taking care of their PCs.

Unlocking Bartons

cpu6bz.jpgAs I am still saving up for my next computer upgrade (still debating over the more expensive but very fast Intel Core Duo or the more budget friendly AMD M2’s), I have to content myself with my two year old and ever trusty AMD Athlon 2500+ Barton Core. The reason I bought this particular processor (and at one time I had two desktops running the same processors) was mainly because of the good reviews it received as well as the sterling commendations it got from PC enthusiasts. The main point of the accolades came from the fact that the Barton Core was very overclocking friendly. Overclocking specialists say that it is easy to overclock the Bartons and that the procedure in order to make the Barton core processors overclockable are very easy to follow.I have read many forums in so many websites that extol the virtues of the Barton core. One of the most compelling reasons I have read for recommending a Barton at that time was that for the price you pay for a Barton you can overclock it to speeds that at that time were in the domain of the higher end processors that were expensive. Good enough reason to buy, right?

This week, I just encountered this thread about the Barton mobile processor. This particular thread was discussing how to unlock the higher multipliers of the Barton mobile. It’s a fairly old thread but it clearly shows you how it easy it is to unlock Bartons. Neophyte overclockers or those who want to get into the hobby could possibly by an old Barton and play with it using the information found on the thread.

Ubuntu Edgy discussions

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More and more enthusiasts are beginning to use alternative operating systems as a way of exploring the capabilities of non Microsoft products. Let us face it, most of them are also using alternative operating systems as a way of escaping from the shackles of the Microsoft monopoly – a sentiment that is quite strong among hard core PC users.

One of the more popular operating systems aside from Microsoft Windows is Linux. This Unix like operating system is quite popular most especially because of its open source development that allows other people to make different kinds of iterations of the operating system in order to add various functionalities and increased levels of usability. This has resulted in the popularity of various “flavors” of the Linux operating system. One of the more popular flavors that have come out in recent years is Ubuntu.

The Ubuntu distribution of Linux has quickly gained a following among PC enthusiasts because of its almost Windows-like ease of use (although it still cannot be seen as a perfect implementation of the Windows usability). It is also quite popular because of the possibility to actually boot from the disk to reveal a very functional desktop.

The latest iteration of Ubuntu is the Ubuntu Edgy, which offers a number of very cool improvements. In the Hardcoreware forum, members are already discussing the Ubuntu Edgy and discussing the many features this new iteration has brought forth to the table.

These types of discussions are a great way of enticing other PC users who are too afraid to venture out of Microsoft territory and pique their interests enough to actually try other operating systems.

Dedicated mobo threads are a big help!

MSIK7n2-LBoard.jpgI remember when I still had two desktops at home (I eventually traded my other desktop with a laptop for space considerations, but since I can’t afford a gaming laptop, LAN games have effectively stopped at home much to the chagrin of my friends), maintaining the two desktops was a bit of a challenge because, even though I was able to source the same processors (AMD Athlons), I was not able to get the same motherboards. One of my desktops had an MSI motherboard, while the other had an Epox motherboard.Doing maintenance on either desktop could sometimes be an exercise on confusion. I had to memorize two different and distinct solutions to two different symptoms simply because they have different BIOS. I also need to look at different manuals for the post codes generated by both motherboards. It became quite tedious because even researching for each motherboard will take its own time, something that I do not have a lot of.

It is a good thing that a forum like extremeoverclocking.com has instituted a separate section just for motherboard manufacturers. This is a big help for any PC owner because it will be so much easier to talk, discuss and ask help from people who also own, not only the same brand of motherboards but even the same motherboard models. Talking shop with people who own the same PC parts as you do makes it easier to really compare notes and ask for help. And since each brand and model has dedicated threads, you know that the advice and tips being shared is something that you can use. Furthermore, you can better anticipate the effects of the tips as it is implemented because the owners will also post them.