New Athlon64 system

Well, I’m finally getting a new PC together. I’ve been using a Pentium 2 300MHz for quite a long time now. Even now, the P2 is mostly adequate for what I want to do. For web-surfing, email, and web-publishing, you really don’t need more than that.

But I’ve been doing more image and video editing lately, and the P2 just doesn’t cut the mustard for me anymore. I’m stepping up, a BIG step up:

  • AMD Athlon64 3500+, 90nm version
  • Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard
  • 2GB of DDR400 RAM
  • Western Digital Raptor 74GB 10000RPM SATA hard disk
  • This system is being installed in the Antec Sonata case that the P2 has been living in for half a year or so. The P2 has been banished back to the beige-box it lived in before. Powered it up in the old box, and suddenly remembered how good the Antec Sonata really is… it sounds like a bloody jet engine in the old case.

    The P2 is going to be relocated to my basement, where the racket won’t bother me. It will become a dedicated home-automation server, running the Home Control Assistant software that came with my USB PowerLinc X-10 interface.

    Assembly

    I was warned by my friend John, who recently built the same system, about a hassle with the ATX connector cutout. When installing the motherboard, check that no metal grounding fingers on the connector plate are out of position, blocking the keyboard or Ethernet ports. It happens very easily. It happened to John, and it happened to me. The whole system has to be dismantled to correct it. Fortunately, with John’s warning, I caught the problem early, before any PCI cards were installed.

    Motherboard Features

    The A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard comes with a plethora of SATA ports. Two separate controllers, each with 4 ports. That’s eight SATA ports in all. One controller is built into the NVIDIA nForce 4 chipset. The other is an additional Silicon Image 3114R RAID controller. Both controllers can support RAID configurations. The Silicon Image controller appears to support more sophisticated RAID modes. The NVIDIA controller can support RAIDs that span both SATA and Parallel ATA drives, and seems to be better-integrated into the BIOS.

    I wasn’t really sure which SATA controller was best to use for a basic single-drive configuration. I chose the built-in NVIDIA controller.

    Continuing the idea of “if one is good, then two is better”, ASUS also includes two separate Gigabit Ethernet controllers. Again, one is built into the nForce chipset. The other is a separate Marvell 88E81001 controller. I’m not really sure why two Eternet controllers were included. The NVIDIA controller works with NVIDIA’s built-in ActiveArmor hardware firewall, the Marvell controller does not. The Marvell controller does provide a “virtual cable tester” function, but how much use is that, really?

    Software Installation

    The ASUS motherboard comes with a CD full of drivers and other software. Too much other software, in fact. There seem to be at least three different programs that supposedly tune your system for optimum performance. Very little guidance is provided as to the differences between these programs. I assume they can’t all be compatible with each other. I’m basically not using any of them right now.

    I installed the hard-drive from my old PC in the new, so I could copy my files off. The new hard drive is big enough to accomodate a complete copy of the old one. I’ll clean it up later.

    I had problems with accessing the hard-drive. Every attempt caused the PC to crash and burn, hard. But I got past that. More on this below.

    At first, I foolishly attempted to drag-and-drop the entire contents of the old hard-drive. This runs into problems pretty quickly, and basically just aborts the copy. Then you have to manually figure out where it went wrong and why.

    I figured there had to be a software solution to this. I found it, in a free program called YCopy. I assume the name is a reference to the old DOS XCOPY command, which does the same job (more or less).

    YCopy completed the copy quite quickly, and produced a report of which files it couldn’t copy. The problem files were mostly in the user space of other users of my computer, and inaccessible due to permissions. To copy them, I was forced to go in and take ownership of the files. Adminstrator can always take ownership of files, even when he can’t read them. It’s my PC. If you want privacy, get your own PC!

    Problems

    Commisioning the new system has not been entirely without problems. I think the worst problem I’ve seen was when I put the old PC’s hard-drive in, to copy the files. The drive was detected, and everything booted up fine. But every time I tried to access it, I got a Blue Screen of Death. The BSOD didn’t stick around long enough to read. I understand there’s a setting somewhere to control that, I’ll find it when I can.

    The IDE driver from NVIDIA would automatically reduce it’s DMA modes, to reduce problems. It was reduced all the way down to PIO mode (the slowest), and still crashing.

    I told Windows to update the drivers for the IDE controller. It found an update, so I let it install. The update turns out to be a Microsoft driver. It turned the transfer mode back up to the fastest DMA mode. And it worked perfectly. I think NVIDIA’s IDE driver must have some nasty, nasty bug.

    The ActiveArmor hardware firewall from NVIDIA has been problematic as well. It seems to block Norton’s LiveUpdate feature. I can’t find any setting that will let LiveUpdate work, except to disable the firewall entirely. Even the most liberal settings won’t work. Others have reported this problem as well. I hope either Norton or NVIDIA will come up with something. This is just silly.

    The motherboard disc includes Norton Internet Security, which has anti-virus, a firewall, and a few other things. So now I have the Windows XP SP2 built-in firewall, the Norton firewall, and the NVIDIA ActiveArmor hardware firewall. Isn’t this a little bit excessive?

    Personally, I like the NVIDIA one best (except for that LiveUpdate incompatibility, which renders it useless.) The NVIDIA firewall, besides offloading the firewalling work to hardware, is also the most powerful and configurable one of the lot. In fact, it’s almost daunting in its complexity. I appreciate that, myself, as long as decent documentation is supplied. And it is. The motherboard CD includes an Adminstrator’s Guide for the firewall, one of the most comprehensive and detailed product manuals I have seen from the computer industry in a long time. This is a manual I could actually learn something from.

    Well, this is long enough now. I will continue later.

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