Saturday, June 20, 2009

Voltage, MiFi, and Radio Frequency! Oh My!

Well, I'm trying to get back into my Saturday schedule again, so here I am. I have a loose end to tie up, and something new to talk about, and a bit of personal news.

First, the loose end. Frag mom's frag box is running. It's not running Vista, but it's running. The problem is, I don't know why. Here's the deal.

I signed up on the ASUS forum pages so I could try to get more info. There was some info there, but not much was helpful. So, I posted my problem (which was almost the same as the "Open Letter" from last week). I got some responses, but mostly commiserating from other people that couldn't get Vista to work on their ASUS N3M78 Pro motherboards. However, they could get XP to work. So, I dug around for a copy of XP, found a key that was on a computer that had the OS replaced (not upgraded. We're fully legal here). Then I installed XP. Have you ever formatted a 500GB drive in XP? Full format, not a quick format? It must have taken 4 hours. That was the most agonizing part of the installation. After the format, everything went slick. Everything installed without any problem. Then I installed all the correct drivers from the DVD that came with the motherboard (not the newest drivers) without any problem. Next, I installed the utility from ASUS that monitors the health of the CPU and motherboard. Wait a second. What's the voltage in the CPU? 1.3v. What?

I went to the AMD website and searched for the specs for the Phenom 9500 CPU. (If I'm reading this wrong, please let me know) Operating voltage is 1.15v to 1.25v. So, the voltage for the CPU is high. That explains the 57°C CPU temp (which is also high). But I can't find in the BIOS how to lower the voltage of the CPU. I'll need to do more digging and get back to you. I'm guessing that MAY be part of the problem with Vista Ultimate installing. That and the voltage for the RAM is running low; 2.0v rather than the 2.1 to 2.2 that it likes. If you know how to fix that, or have any other comments or suggestions, please let me know.


Well, the good news is that now that the new frag box is running, we can again start running instances in World of Warcraft! It's neat to be able to run them with the four of us in the house, even though we use Skype to be able to talk between the floors of the house! Lots of fun, trust me. And we've done the first two instances of Wrath so far. Nexus was the first time we've run an instance with no one in the group having been in that particular instance before. THAT was fun.


I had an interesting problem with work this week. I was trying to use my normal method of VPN to get into work, but the DNS for Comcast wouldn't resolve the name of the servers I wanted to go to. "That's odd" I thought. So, I tried to go to a few websites I go to, and those were not accessible, but my "normal" sites were. Odd. And that brings me to my newest toy.

Since we started with Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing (FHTM), we've been looking for a "business" internet connection that isn't too expensive (although it's a business expense anyway). So I did some research. I wanted to use VerizonWireless, or at least some form of wireless / cellular / 3G connection, so I could take it with me where ever I was working (I've been to one too many "free" wifi places that I had a hard time connecting through). After painstaking research and study, I settled on the VerizonWireless MiFi 2200. Let me tell you something, this baby is AWESOME!

First, let's look at it physically. It's 3.5" high, 2.3" wide, and only 0.4" thin! That makes it a little bigger than a credit card, and thinner than the Motorola Razr V3 phone. It weighs 2 oz, which is 2/3 the weight of the Razr phone. Let me put it this way: if you wear bondage pants, you could lose it in your pockets. It comes with a micro USB port for connection directly to a computer (PC or Mac (or Linux for that matter)), and for charging. Yes, you can charge your battery while you're tethered to it. There's also a short USB cable and a wall charger in the box, as well as a small fabric sleeve for it, for when you're not using it.

It was delivered at around 5pm, and after opening the box and looking at the directions (yes, I sometimes do that), I decided that maybe I should charge this new toy for 24 hours before trying to use it. Sigh. So, I put the battery in (doubling the weight, at least) and plugged it into the wall, making a mental note of the time that I could start playing with my new toy tomorrow!

That night was like Christmas Eve. Well, not really, but it's good for dramatic effect.

The next evening I followed the directions to activate the MiFi 2200. I connected it to my laptop with the USB cable, and it showed up as a thumb drive! The MiFi 2200 has VZAccess Manager installed in a small memory chip. You install that from the "modem" itself, then update over the air after the connection is made. Using the MiFi 2200 as a directly connected modem is easy. VZAccess Manager detects when it is connected and gives you the option of using it for the primary internet connection. The great thing about VZAccess Manager is that it gives preference to WiFi connections, so you don't use up your throughput.

I hear what you're saying. So what! What's the big deal. VerizonWireless has lots of USB connectable 3G modems. Well, not like this one. You see, the real fun begins when you disconnect the MiFi 2200 from the USB cable. Once the connection with Verizon is made, the MiFo 2200 acts as a WiFi hub, allowing up to 5 connections through to the internet over Verizon's 3G network. So if you have a small group of people getting together in a place where there's no free WiFi, no problem. Whip out the MiFi 2200 and hook up wirelessly. Speeds are almost as fast as my Comcast connection over normal WiFi G connections.

The real test will be when we travel up to Maine for the 4th of July weekend. According to VerizonWireless' coverage map, my dad's house in the middle of the Maine woods is covered by Verizon's "Enhanced Services". That's going to be the real test. Last time I tried to get internet connectivity there, it was at less than 14.4Kbps!

Oh, but the best part, was that because I bought it through FHTM's Wireless shop, I got a discount on the MiFi 2200. The service is still $59.99 a month for 5GB (5,120 MB), but the MiFi itself was only $79.99, instead of $99.99 directly from VerizonWireless. Sweet.


I said there'd be a bit of personal news. The trip to Maine was not it. (By the way, the alarm will be on and the police will know we're out of town, in case you're thinking of being bad). On Thursday, June 25th, I will be having a procedure for my back called radiofrequency neurotomy, where the doctor will be going into my back with a needle and basically burning the facet nerves for L5-S1. Thursday will be the left side, the following Tuesday will be the right side. It sounds kind of scary, but with God's help, I should be back to what passes for normal for me within two weeks. I'll tell you next week how the first one goes, if I feel up to it! But for now, it's back to the frag box to try to figure out how to drop that CPU voltage!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Open Letter to ASUSTeK


I just wanted to let you know that I'm still having problems with my new M3N78 Pro MoBo. I'm on my 2nd M3N78 Pro MoBo now. The first was defective. Now that I installed the second one, I can't get Vista Ultimate x64 w/SP1 to install. I have been testing this for over a week now, following the scientific method, changing only one thing at a time trying to get Vista to install correctly.

Please check for details on the system configuration and my previous experience with this MoBo.

The closest I've come to actually completely installing Vista was getting to the screen just before entering the user name and password for initial user creation, and sticking at "Completing Installation .." but it wasn't.

I changed the SATA to AHCI, then to RAID, then to IDE. Each time, no difference.

I lowered the voltage for the DIMMs and for the North Bridge. No difference.

I slipstreamed the drivers from your website into the install DVD. No difference.

I know the DVD media is good because I installed onto another 500GB SATA drive I had on a different system with no issues at all. After that was installed and updated using Windows Update, I powered down and switched the drives. No difference. I tried booting into Safe Mode, waiting for drivers to load from the DVD, and even loading the drivers myself, but I couldn't log in, and the system was unusable.

I tried pulling one of the DIMMs. I tried moving the DIMMS to different locations.

To make this long saga short, nothing has worked. I'm at the end of my rope. This was supposed to be a simple replacement of a problem Dell that was hyper-unstable. I'm tempted to switch back to the Dell and live with the BSOD.

I'm not stupid. I've been building computers since 1993. This is the biggest nightmare I have ever experienced. If someone can point me to some voltage settings, maybe a way to underclock the CPU, some magic incantation. Anything would be appreciated. I've done everything short of sacrificing a goat.

I keep reading everywhere that this is such a wonderful MoBo. I haven't seen it yet. I'm about to order a new MoBo that will use the same CPU and RAM from a different manufacturer, then take this one out in a field and go "Office Space" on it.

Any suggestions?

And by the way, don't call my house, because my wife is fit to be tied. This was supposed to be a quick fix so she could get back on World of Warcraft. It's been two weeks now.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Frag Mom’s new frag box

Well, it's Tuesday evening, and the parts are all here; the next step is getting it all together!

Here's my parts list:


You may recognize the video card from last week. It's the same card. The one that came in the bundle wasn't as good.

(Fast forward) 8

Well, it took me about an hour and a half to get the computer built. Not too shabby. But that's when the "fun" began.

First try at installing Vista Ultimate 64 bit was looking great, until it hung on the final (or at least what looked like the final) phase of the install and configuration, "Completing Installation. . ." My first guess was dirty media, so I wiped the DVD clean (physically, not the data!) and tried again. It died in the same place. So, I thought "Maybe I'm just not waiting long enough. It's getting late anyway; I'll just start the install and go to bed." Nope. That didn't work either. I got up Wednesday morning at 5:30 and still, not done and sitting in the same place. "Completing Installation. . ." All I could think of was "No, you're not! That's the problem!" It's time to do some research.

(Fast forward) 8

After searching for some time, I found that sometimes the SATA driver from Microsoft isn't completely compatible with the nVidia SATA chipset. So it seems that the data going to the hard drive is being corrupted and is then not able to be read, which is a bit of a problem. After many attempts, half attempts and one or two near successes, it was after 5PM on the Wednesday. This is taking more time than I wanted it to.

(Fast forward) 8

OK, and now it's 8PM on Wednesday. I've decided to take out the ATI video card on the off chance it's conflicting with the nVidia GPU on the motherboard. We'll see if this install works. And yes, I need to re-install because something got horked up and it wouldn't boot. Hopefully we won't have a power failure along with the thunderstorm that's going over right now. That would be bad (but not totally unexpected, given the way this project has gone).

(Fast forward) 8

And the fun continues. It's now 8PM on Thursday. 24 hours since I took out the ATI video card, with still no joy in mudville. To be honest, I don't know how I haven't gone completely bald or completely insane because of this. I've NEVER had an installation go this bad. Blue screens or hangs at seemingly random times. There's no way to diagnose, because the dump doesn't get put on the hard drive. Sometimes the install blue screens during the initial phase. And what the heck is are PTEs?

(Fast forward) 8

I just got off the phone with the ASUS technical support folks (after the third try. The first two the line when dead as the tech came on). They seem to think that the problem isn't with the motherboard (big surprise) but with the media from Microsoft. I won't write that off, I've seen it before. In fact, I've seen viruses from Microsoft software; pristine, from the factory CDs with a virus on it. It does happen. So I'm going to try putting Windows 7 on it instead of Vista. The tech suggested XP, but I don't know that I have an XP disk I can install from. So I'm burning the Windows 7 x64 RC to a DVD to try that.

(Fast forward) 8

As I expected, Win7 wouldn't install either. Linux won't even recognize the video card. <sarcasm> I wonder what that could mean! </sarcasm>

(Fast forward) 8

It's now Friday morning, around 11AM, and I just got off the phone with the great folks at TigerDirect. I have nothing but praise for these folks. They definitely know how to do customer service. A 5 minute phone call, and the new motherboard will be here (but in three to four business days). Once it's here I can send back the dead one. The biggest problem I can see with this whole thing is that frag-mom is still frag-box-less. I'm going to have to hook up the dead Dell again and pray it works for a few days. The saga continues.