Archive for the ‘computers’ Category

New Cable Modem

I know I have gone on and on about my <sarcasm> love </sarcasm> for cable companies and some of my issues with Comcast.  My most recent interaction with them gave us an “upgrade” on our internet speeds for just a little more money.  However, our speeds were not any faster.  Maybe the upload was a little better, topping at just under 2 Mb/s but the download still wouldn’t reach the 9 Mb/s mark.  I asked if I needed a new cable modem but they said I did not.  All of the limited information I could find about these modems seemed to support that.  But since I am leasing it (and still paying) then I thought it should be fair to get a new model and they said I could come in and exchange it.

I finally got around to exchanging it.  It didn’t take too long and the customer service was only slightly grumpy but I got a new box.  Had some slight issues where it wouldn’t work properly and it wanted me to install some software on my computer (not likely!) but a call to Comcast and a reset of the signal got that all fixed.

Low and behold, I am suddenly getting over 21 Mb/s download speed!  So if you have had Comcast (or Time Warner before the switch) cable internet for a while now and have the same cable modem, then you may want to go exchange it for a new one.  Despite what they tell you.

–Ries, this has been a public service announcement.


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I created the previous post several weeks ago but was waiting to put the CPU-Z screenshot in there.  In the meantime my hard drive failed.  This was a new hard drive but of course passed the 30 day return limit.  Two things kept this from being a catastrophe in my new toy.  First thing, is that I set up my computer with 2 hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration so that all data is saved to both hard drives so no data was lost and there was no down time using my computer.  The other thing is that Samsung has a 3 year warranty on their hard drives and I was able to send it back in and get a replacement in about a week and a half.  So, I installed the new one and it Nightcrawler is once again complete.  But this did remind me why it is important to back up your data.

–Ries, when was your last back up?

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My newly built computer (named Nightcrawler) has received a few minor upgrades in the couple months since I built it.  My wife got me a stocking stuffer for Christmas that was a green LED lit case fan.  I stuck that inside the case to blow on to the video card area.  The green adds a nice hint to the blue that is in all the other fans.  Also, with some gift card money, I bought a card reader so I can stick all those SD cards (and other cards) I have lying around into my computer.

I have been spending a bit of time here and there for about a month trying to overclock my CPU.  I haven’t done this before but I have been reading a lot about it online for a while now.  One of the reasons I went with the Core i5-750 was the relative ease in which it could be overclocked for significant gains.  I even had bought the CPU cooler that I put in there with this in mind.  I did not however, want to attempt any aggressive overclocking that would give me high speeds but created a less efficient system that would reduce the lifetime of my processor.  My last computer served me well for 7+ years and I still have plans for its occasional use.  I want the same out of this computer.

Most overclockers for the new Core i5 / i7 processors tend to due things to get high clocks that I think reduce the effect of some of the advances that Intel has made with this newest generation of processors.  Specifically, the energy saving features and the turbo mode.  It seems that a lot of people turn these features off because they find that they cause stability issues with some of the higher clock rates.  Not that I didn’t believe them, but I did find out that they were right.  Like I said, I didn’t care about aggressive overclocks so I wanted to try and gain a moderate overclock while keeping these features on.  I wanted my cake and eat it too (still don’t get that saying). This article from Tom’s Hardware gave me added courage that I could do it and concrete justification that this was actually the optimum (measured in efficiency) way to go about it.  I just wish they would have put more details about the BIOS settings they used.

I decided that my target clock speed (BCLK) would be 160 MHz with little to no extra voltage, which would give me a default CPU frequency of 3.2 GHz (160 x 20 CPU ratio) and up to 3.84 GHz (160 x 24) in single threaded applications with Turbo Mode.  This seemed reasonable and I was sure I could do it.  A series of tries with unstable torture tests for a single threaded application showed me otherwise.  I am pretty sure I narrowed the problem to having the C-states enabled (power saving feature) but I wasn’t willing to give that up.  I still think I can get those speeds to work, but I don’t have the time, patience, experience, or knowledge to do it right now.  Therefore, I dropped my BCLK down to 150 MHz, which is the point when my motherboard BIOS automatically turns off those processor features mentioned unless you manually enable them.  With this setting I have a stable system and no extra voltage.  I have a 3.0 GHz processor (it usually runs about 3.15 GHz) for the price of a 2.66 GHz one and I am happy.  I may try to slightly increase that BCLK and I think I can get some tighter timings on my memory, but I have to leave something left for me to do, right?  For now, I am happy.  See my final stats in the CPU-Z screenshot below.

Nightcrawler Overclocked Settings

I have also done a simple overclock of my video card using the provided Overdrive from ATI.  Unfortunately, it looks like I will not be able to add another video card to my computer as planned because the Radeon 4870’s are simply dying out of the retail supply.

-Ries, next upgrade?

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If you follow this blog (and I am not sure why you would, must be following my wife or kid) then you probably know that I, like most of you out there, have a hate-hate relationship with Comcast.  Really, it is cable companies and not specifically Comcast.  I generally don’t trust anything they do, because their only motivation is to put money in their pockets right now with no concern over the consumers desires or the direction that technology is pulling the world.  I will stop my rant now, before I gain steam.

So, on Friday, I got a call from Comcast telling me that my 6 Mb/s (download) internet service that I pay ~$60 for could be upgraded to a new plan that they were rolling out that would give me 16 Mb/s for $64.  For $4 more to get more than twice the bandwidth, how could I resist?  So I agreed to upgrade my service.  Especially since, Michelle has been complaining about the internet acting funny recently.  After agreeing to this, the customer service rep also notified me that basic cable also comes free with the service.  Great, now the cable I was getting in my study because they removed the filter would now be completely guilt free.

This has to be too good to be true, right?  Like I said, I don’t trust Comcast.  I went to their website.  They make it hard to find the details on their website.  They don’t want to make it easy for you to determine where they are holding the knife to you.  But from what I can tell, it seems that they are upgrading all their internet services.  The plan I was on, will now go to 12 Mb/s and be a little cheaper.  It looks like they didn’t want me to get something for nothing so they convinced me to go up to the higher tier service, which was also getting upgraded, to the now 16 Mb/s speeds.  To top it off, since Tuesday, when the new speeds were activated, I have not been able to achieve download speeds faster than 9 Mb/s.  Better than before but not what the service claims.  Nor is it even as much as the lower tier plan claims.

I also have an old modem, which my lease fee has easily paid for twice over.  I asked if I needed to turn it in for a new one, but they claim it handles the speeds of all their services.  I suppose so, if none of their services provide what they claim.  I am pretty sure I am going to exchange it anyways.  If I am leasing, I at least want the best one that they will provide.

Believe it or not, I’m not actually mad about this.  I still may do something about it but I am surprisingly calm about.  I guess the lowered expectations created by years of dissappointing service and customer relations has created this type of attitude.  Good job Comcast!

-Ries, turning into a cynic.

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Originally uploaded by Wandering Eyre

I thought that, after all that mouth flapping about that awesome computer Ries has been building, you might like to see it in all its glory.

Bask in the glory.

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Ries is right, I have been spending all of my free time the last week or so playing Dragon Age, which I can safely say is the very best game I have ever played. The graphics are astonishing and the plot is nuanced and intriguing. Sadly, unlike Clara, I am not ok with baby-gating in the kid while I play (though I have considered it briefly).

If anyone cares (and why wouldn’t you?!), I am playing a rogue elf from the city caste named Lady. She aspires to be an assassin, is witty, smart, and of course, a serpent in sheep’s clothing.

I have my computer up and running Ubuntu. After a few minor hiccups (the wireless was wonky and I forgot I HATE coding, but luckily with Ubuntu I do not have muck in the innards much), Ubuntu has been fabulous. I will have to give a full accounting of it later. For now, I think I will use nap time to do some library ranting (link up after I write post it).

–Michelle, just wants to play Dragon Age

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First off, I want to say, that I am an idiot, but I will get to that later.

I described in an earlier post about how I was having trouble putting Windows 7 on my computer.  I bought Windows 7 Ultimate for $20 through UH, since I am a student there.  However, the disk was only an upgrade version and this was a brand spanking new computer with no operating system ever installed.  Therfore, I went ahead and ordered an OEM (Original Equipment Manufactur, basically it is for computer system builders like Dell, HP, smaller boutiques and others but you can buy it from some e-tailers) version of Windows 7 Home Premium for $110.  That was significantly more than I wanted to spend.

But I did some research.  I found this site, which gave great advice on how to use upgrade disks to do a clean install.  But here was the problem.  You always had to use a product key to validate the software and the disk said on the front “Requires Product Key”.  So, I didn’t have one.  I assumed that meant that if you were updating a version of Windows then you had to use the key from the Windows that you were upgrading.  Makes sense to me.  Since we were wiping Michelle’s computer and putting Ubuntu Linux on it (I’ll let Michelle write a future post on her Linux experience)  I figured it was legal to use that Windows XP key.  It would be like I removed it from there and installed on mine and then upgraded it to Windows 7.  I just skipped the part where I installed the XP on my machine since it would be a pointless step.  All sounds good and legal.  However, the key did not work.  I thought I might have to waste my OEM home edition version to get that key and I hope it didn’t downgrade my version.

So, I called Microsoft.  I hate calling people but I wasn’t giving up so easy.  They said that every Windows 7 has to have its own key and that the XP one would not work.  If I got it through my school then I need to contact them about getting a key.  If I still had problems call them back.  They were actually a pretty good support.  I was afraid they were going to try and accuse me of piracy.

If you have read this far, this is the point where Michelle wanted me to blog because she likes to laugh at me.  Remember how I said I was an idiot?  So I called up the UH software store, Cougar Byte, and told them I bought Windows 7 from them but I didn’t get a product key.  I had the disk with me and my receipt and I was prepared for a possible battle but expected it to be pretty easy.  They would just say, “Oh, here it is…”  But here’s how it really played out.  He asks me, “do you still have the sleeve the disk came in?”  I said, “Yes.”  I already know where this is going, he is going to ask me to look on the sleeve for the product key, but I am thinking okay I’ll humor you with this step because of course I looked on the sleeve.  That is where I would expect it to be, right on the back.  After all, I had just installed Office 2007 with software from them and that is exactly where the key was and exactly where I looked.  So he says to me, “Turn it over.”  I’m like, okay, whatever.   “Holy crap!”  I exclaimed on the phone.  There it was!  Plain as day, a bright yellow sticker on a black background with the product key.  He laughed.  I apologized for being an idiot.  He tried to comfort me by telling me it happens a lot.  I felt like the guy who was told to take his computer back to the store by a support tech because he was too dumb to own a computer when he called asking why his desktop wouldn’t turn on during a power outtage (I think the tech was right).

So, in the end, I had a valid key, I used method #2 described in the link above to get my Windows 7 Ultimate working, and I spent $110 on a copy of Windows that I didn’t need (by the way, since I bought the cheaper OEM version instead of the retail version I can not return it either).

–Ries, all that’s left is to overclock this bad boy!  (Idiot, idiot!)

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