Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Excuses, excuses, and a few tech items

Going forward...

So, updates have been slow in coming, but as of today, things should be running smoothly. I will post the weekly link dumps next week, because I forgot that it requires that I post for the preceding week (in order to post the stories I didn't report on, I have to fail to report on them first).

Also, posts will probably be slightly shorter. Of course, enough coverage of an item will mean larger posts.

Excuses, excuses...

Reasons for the lull? Cross institution project, prelim (make it stop!), meetings requiring progress reports, laptop dead-received-installing junk saga, major tech site changes (including restarting the podcast, which you should subscribe to, and all the technical issues with getting my mini-studio up and running again), computer upgrades (more below), new lab computers for tasks we've never done, lots of general tech stuff I'm learning about and was previously unfamiliar with (video conferencing standard, serious data security, HD semi-pro film editing hardware/software, etc.), and actually plenty more that I can't remember. I've honestly gone out for 'fun' once in the last 3 weeks, making other friends a little worried, and causing those obligatory "I'm doing great, just lots of work" social sessions. At least that's how I justify playing WoW with the guild, the Tipplesplitters ("Fear the Muffin!"), for 5 hours last night :). I'm not complaining, since all this is actually really fun to me, but you get the idea. Side projects like this blog took a back seat. And, there's also a film project I might be involved with, but that's still in the planning stages.

Upgraded PC setup

My computer is now set up in such an uber-radical way that I am in awe. That's rare. Not every piece is latest and greatest, but I decided to put off assembling a new one until the end of the year at the earliest for tech reasons.

New laptop:
Gateway C-141XL with - Penryn 2.4GHz, 250GB HDD, 3 GB RAM, Vista Business x86, ATI Radeon Mobility x2300 HD w/ 128MB dedicated, Wacom digitizer, etc. Probably the fastest and most feature rich 14.1" widescreen tablet out (neck and neck with the Toshiba). (edit: nevermind, it is now the ONLY 14" tablet, since Toshiba discontinued the M7 and R10. Still love t, even though it is a bit heavy.)

WORTH NOTING FOR ANYONE WITH A LAPTOP AND DESKTOP: Get Synergy2. It's a small, open source, free application that you run on any number of computers of any OS (Win XP/Vista, OSX, Linux, etc) and allows you to use one mouse and keyboard seamlessly with all of them. It is awesome. There is a paid for Windows only app called MaxiVistaPro that supports a few other things like file dragging, but Synergy works great for me.

Desktop changes:
The laptop is mounted below the right 20.1" LCD in my new 3-friggin-monitor setup, so that when I'm home it is used as my scratch pad and reference for notes. All three LCDs (all Dell, 2x20.1", 1x24") and the laptop/tablet are supported by new Ergotron LX100 arms, which are just top notch quality and have no problem supporting everything. Monitors arranged in 20"-24"-20" setup.

The central/main monitor is driven by an 512MB EVGA Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS, which uses the G92 chip (used in the 9XXX series, smaller dye, etc). I decided I don't play enough games, and I have 2 consoles, to warrant springing for a 9800GTX, and didn't want to deal with the power issues of the 9800GX2 (dual GPU card).

The triple-display/triple monitor drama
I had an EVGA Nividia GeForce 7950GX2, which is two 7950GTs in one card allowing for two of such cards to be used in a Quad SLI setup (4 GPUs fused into one monster, single monitor driving GPU). Originally I was thinking of putting that card into SLI mode (could only drive one monitor then), using it to drive my main monitor, and getting a cheap-o dual DVI second card to drive the other two. After a shit-ton of research (literally hours, possibly days if you include the many other checks into this setup), I decided to do an about face and do the opposite - get a new, reasonably priced card for the center monitor that performed as good or better than the 7950 in SLI (I was surprised that the 8X00 series is JUST catching up to it). The reason? Everything I read on getting the previous setup to work screamed "HACK!" and I knew that I would one day update a driver and none of it would work. My main concern was whether trying to keep the 7950 in SLI would cause the drivers to attempt to lump the second GPU in with the mix, causing either errors, or not letting me use SLI in the first place, but there were other concerns. My motherboard has two PCI-Express 16x slots so I might as well use them. (Asus P5N32-SLI SE Deluxe, based on the NForce4 Intel x16 chipset, which actually has a second PCI-E mini-bus and bridge chip. It was the first chipset for Intel chips with 2x16x lanes, so it was slightly a hack job in itself.) More importantly, the PCI graphics cards were all older, which means drastically different drivers. If I went with an NVidia card, there would likely be problems with the main monitor, if system files got overwritten with the older chipset files, and if I went with ATI there's always the possibility that down the road a driver update or installer would check the system, and as soon as it saw a non-NVidia or non-ATI card it would either not try to install or assume the drivers were old and uninstall them or something worse. The only option I considered was getting an ATI card and doing alittle dance between safe mode boots in which I disable one GPU, install the other's drivers, disable the other and install the opposite's drivers, enable SLI with the ATI disabled, cross my fingers and hope that everything works. There are reports of this working, but by the number of steps, you can tell it isn't a 'supported feature', and who knows if I could change the display resolution without a million reboots.

Instead I got the 8800GTS 512 - an excellent overall performer and the best bang for the buck - for under $200. The two side monitors are driven by the EVGA 1GB Geforce 7950GX2. I decided that since I'm mixing DirectX 9 and 10 cards, I would split the 7950GX2 (leave it out of SLI Mode) and not run DX10 apps on the side monitors (I should note that this is NOT a triple-monitor GAMING setup, just a triple monitor WORK setup with excellent single monitor gaming). I thought that of all the possibilities, this was most likely to work and offer the performance I was looking for, in the configuration I wanted, and at a reasonable price. Got the 8800, installed it, booted, and bam! Worked out of the box with no driver updates. There were a few odd things in the NVidia control panel application, but updating to the latest beta drivers (174.74, I think it was) fixed all those issues (only real oddity was that only one 20" monitor was configurable in the NVidia app, but worked fine in the system Display Control Panel). Totally happy. Totally in awe of the monster I had created.

(Other general specs: 2.66GHz Core2Duo (E6700 Conroe, watercooled), 3GB 800MHz DDR2, ??TB in HDDs (I've lost count, around 5TB), external 5-bay eSATA enclosure, Soundblaster X-Fi Elite, Logitech Z-5500 speakers, and prob missing something - oh well)

I will post pics soon.

~o.O~ new keyboard just got here! Must go play.

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