Monday: 31.May.2004

Intel's New Chipsets: Grantsdale & Alderwood, i915P, i915G & i925X

The boys at Intel are fixin' to release a new chipset next month. This chipset consists of *two* chips (a matched set), commonly known as the "north-bridge" and the "south-bridge". These chips connect together everything else in your computer, such as your CPU, RAM, hard drives, CD/DVD burners, graphics card/monitor, printer, network, etc. Those you who visually-oriented, see HERE (60-KB).

Most people think the CPU is the most important component in a PC, but it's not. The chipset is. Because the chipset (also called "core-logic") determines which CPUs your computer can use--not the other way around. Actually, Intel will be releasing *two* new chipsets (on the 21st):

• Grantsdale: i915P and i915G
• Alderwood: i925X

Unlike a CPU (such as the popular Pentium 4 processor) which can be easily upgraded/replaced. The chipset comes embedded on the motherboard and cannot be upgraded without replacing the motherboard itself (not a simple upgrade).

When someone decides to build a new system, they first select the chipset, and build the computer around the chipset (motherboard). This is why a new chipset is such big news in the world of Technolusters. It means we get to use new toys: better, faster, shinier ones.

One of the chips in the chipset is called the "northbridge" (graphics and memory controller hub), which controls how your memory (RAM) and CPU work together. See HERE (27-KB) for a graphic illustration. (Image grabbed from Corsair.)

The two Grantsdale chipsets are the same except that the one designated "G" comes with onboard (on the motherboard) graphics, so you could save money by NOT having to purchase a separate graphics card. But both Grantsdale chipsets are merely watered down versions of the Alderwood, which is the high-performance "rocket-sled" of the three. So that's the one we-technolusters are really interested in.

••• continued •••

Currently, Intel's premier chipset (for desktop computers) is the 875P (released April, 2003), which comes on the Asus P4C800-E Deluxe motherboard (~US$180), which I like so much.

You cannot yet purchase a motherboard containing any of these new chipsets. When they first come out, it's usually a good idea to wait a month or two and allow someone else (called "early adopters") to work out the initial kinks. Unless you have lots of patience, and well-developed troubleshooting skills, let someome else blaze the trail for you. Some people (such as the Doc, who wrote the FDISK Partitioning guide) are good at that sort of thing. Soon, they will learn what works, and what doesn't .. and will post their findings at online forums such as ABXZone.

So what features will the Alderwood (i925X) have? And how will they be different from features currently-existing in today's chipsets/motherboards? In what follows, I tried to distill & organized the info I gathered from many different web sites.

• The i925 will be the only one of the three to support Intel's PAT: Performance Acceleration Technology. (Current chipsets support PAT.) Some sources call this "Incredible Intel DT Performance".

• Support for CPUs that run at a FSB (Front Side Bus) of both 800-MHz and 1066-MHz (266x4). Current chipsets max out at 800-MHz. Grantsdale will support 533 and 800. I'm not sure if Alderwood will support the lower 533, but it doesn't matter because no one is likely to use this lower speed.

• Support for new Prescott CPUs with LGA-775 packaging, with 775 pins, which are located on the *motherboard*, not the CPU itself, like current CPUs are designed. LGA = Land Grid Array. LGA-775 packaging will also be know as Socket-T. Current CPUs have 478 pins, which are attached to the CPU itself. You'll be able to purchase a CPU with *either* (both) 478 or the new 775-pin packaging at the following rated speeds: 2.8-GHz, 3.0, 3.2 and 3.4. At the 3.6-GHz speed and above, only LGA-775 packaging will be available. (linkage)

• Pricing for these new processors will be as follows (linkage):

* Pentium 4 560 - 3.60-GHz - $637
* Pentium 4 550 - 3.40-GHz - $417
* Pentium 4 540 - 3.20-GHz - $278
* Pentium 4 530 - 3.00-GHz - $218
* Pentium 4 520 - 2.80-GHz - $178

• None of these new chipsets will work with Windows 98 or ME. (linkage)

• The familiar AGP port (Accelerated Graphics Port) will be replaced by PCI-Express X16. Linkage. The bandwidth offered by this new X16 port is 4 times more than what is currently provided by AGP-8X.

• Support for new DDR-II memory (RAM), up to 4-GB of it, also in dual-channel configuration, like current motherboard designs, which use DDR-I. New chipsets will support both 400 and 533 speeds. (Current motherboards max out at DDR-400 and do not support DDR2) Alderwood will support DDR-II only, not DDR-I, which Grantsdale will still support, along with DDR2.

• Another chip in the chipset is the ICH6-R. It is known as the "southbridge" controller hub and will support the following 5 features listed below (Note: ICH = Input/Output Controller Hub, R = RAID):

1. 4 Serial-ATA ports (Current boards support only 2)
2. 8 USB 2.0 ports (Current boards support 6)
3. 1 ATA-100 port (current boards support 5)
4. RAID-0 and RAID-1 using 2 drives (not 4). Non-R ICH6 hubs will not support RAID.
5. 4 PCI Express X1 lanes . Current boards do not support PCI Express. Rather they support PCI 2.3. The new PCI Express standard is the most confusing of all the chipset's new technologies. See the chart at the bottom of THIS page for clarification. Note that "PCI Express" and "PCI-X" are two different things. PCIX, like current PCI, is a parallel bus (64-bit width, vs PCI's 32-bit), whereas PCI Express is a serial bus (8-bit width). PCI Express (the serial bus) is faster, and supports a much greater bandwidth. See the graph on THIS page for an idea of PCI Express "lines" (1, 2, 4, 8, or 16) vs bandwidth. Some sites seem to use the terms "lines" and "lanes" interchangably.

• "Azalia" high-definition audio: 192-KHz, 32-bit. This used to be called "Dolby Pro Logic IIx".

• New BTX form factor (BTX = Balance Technology eXxtended) Current boards use the ATX form factor. This change will come close to, but independent to the chipset release. BTX will involve a new power supply unit and different (quieter/better) CPU cooling.

The two features I want most in my next rig will be:

1. An FSB-1066 CPU with LGA-775 packaging (socket-T)
2. DDR2 at the higher 533 speed

With so many design changes in this chipset, it might take the "early-adopters" longer to work out all the kinks. I know it's hard, but we need to be patient. If you need more info, here is a Google search pre-configured for the query-string "intel+alderwood+i925x+chipset"

Posted by Rad at Monday: 31May2004 | Comments (4)

Friday: 28.May.2004

Mac vs PC

Today I was going to post a little ditty about the great Mac vs PC debate, but quickly realized that volumes have already been published on the topic. No sense in re-inventing the wheel.

I use a PC (Windows XP), so I frequent PC-user forums (such as the ones at the Storagereview and ABXZone and Hydrogen Audio to name a few). Naturally, whenever the Mac vs PC question arises in these forums, users there typically take the Pro-PC side and bash the Mac, saying things like "Macs suck" or "Macs are not real computers" (which can be a way of saying they're easier to use). But many users, altho preferring the PC platform, are sympathetic to Apple's position, such as those at the Avid forums.

It surprised me that you can find supporting documentation for just about any point you want to make - for either side. For example, you can find linkage to articles that say things like: Mac Slaughtered Again, or a whole site dedicated to telling you why Macs are better than PCs. Some articles say PCs are faster, while others give the nod to the Mac.

••• continued •••

I began my computing journey with a Mac. I liked my Mac, but quickly ran into problems when I had to work with others, who all had PCs. You're *supposed* to be able to exchange files seamlessly between the two platforms, but I was spending almost as much time learning about the intricacies of file-conversion than the actual work itself. This was frustrating.

I even spent US$100 on a Mac-based file-conversion program. My partners soon got annoyed because they couldn't read my files. I felt like an outsider, and wound up using a friend's PC (486) for the remainder of the project.

Much of the debate falls into the category of Personal Preference. So I thought I'd stick to the facts. What are the (unemotional) facts? And I can relate my own personal experience .. such as the stability of my computer. My PC simply never crashes, no matter how hard I push it. But it took me a while to learn how to build and configure a PC so it's stable.

The great Mac-vs-PC war has already been waged and (as you know) PCs won hands down. Depending on what statistics you look at (US sales vs world-wide, include corporate sales or home-only), Mac has a few percent of the market share. Of course, this does not necessarily mean PCs are *better*. Beta is/was a better format than VHS, but you won't find many beta tapes or players floating around.

Naturally, this begs the question: If you were to decide to write a new software program, what platform would *you* write it for? .. knowing you would sell more copies if 2% of the PC market purchased your software than if 50% of the Mac market did.

I only know two people who use Macs (Jan & Frank), so I am certainly no expert on the subject. Tania also used a Mac, but she's no longer with us. But I know when I go into the local CompUSA, there's only a small section in a far corner (dimly lit) dedicated to Mac products. Certainly, the advantages associated with economies-of-scale belong to PC users.

One good thing about the Mac platform is that all viruses are written for the Windows operating system. I don't think there is a single current virus that targets Macs, so you wouldn't need any Anti-virus software. Of course, it's not like Macs don't have their own security issues. Or maybe you're wondering which platform would be best for video-editing.

Another factor that helped me decided to convert to PC was that I didn't feel comfortable using a platform from a company whose financial viability was always in question. Other than Apple itself, there isn't a single Fortune 500 company that runs on Macs. Why not? Also, I enjoy being able to build my own computer, and you can't do that with a Mac.

In the end, the main difference between Mac and Win-Tel is that (unlike Windows) Apple controls *both* the hardware AND the operating system. It's this proprietary control that is the source of Macs' advantages (they can control how the hardware will respond to the O/S) and disadvantages (there's no competition for the hardware, so they can charge whatever they like, and make it difficult to upgrade your system, without purchasing an entirely new box.).

I admit that I'm biased, but I tried to be objective, or at least present the case for why I switched from Mac to PC. Each platform offers its own set of advantages & disadvantages. Like partitioning, choice of computer platform is a personal thang. If user-friendliness is important to you, then a Mac might be your best option. If, on the other hand, you prize value & selection, or if you need to exchange files with other PC users, then a PC is probably the right choice for you. Of course, the best way to learn for yourself which platform is the best (for you) would be to use both.

Here's a Google-search pre-configured for the query: PC vs Mac

Posted by Rad at Friday: 28May2004 | Comments (10)

Tuesday: 25.May.2004

Memory (RAM) Primer, Corsair XMS modules

I've been getting questions on the nuances of how to select the right memory (RAM). I admit it can be confusing, so I'll try to break it down (Radify it) for you.

Most current-generation motherboards, such as the Asus P4C800-E Deluxe, which I like, support two channels of DDR400 RAM. DDR400 is synonymous with PC-3200. These are different standards that (to you & me) mean the same thing. A dual-channel configuration implies you use two sticks of RAM (for best performance).

The XMS series (from Corsair) makes purchasing two sticks easy, because they offer what are called TwinX Matched Memory Pairs. These "matched pairs " are designed to work together in a dual-channel configuration.

Reader comments: 1. Dual channel works fine with any even number of DIMMs, not just two. Most dual channel motherboards support four sticks. If you install matching DIMMs in each pair of slots, you'll get dual channel performance.

2. TwinX is a marketing tactic, not a design. While it may be true that Corsair qualifies TwinX modules for working well together, they're no different from ordinary Corsair DIMMs (of the same specs) sold individually.

If you opt to go with Corsair's XMS series RAM (I did), you have a few questions to answer. The first is, do you want 512-MB (2 X 256-MB sticks) or 1-GB (2 X 512-MB sticks) of memory. Since you get double the memory for ~50% more ca$h, I recommend 1-Gig, But your system will likely run fine with 512-MB of memory.

••• continued •••

If you do things such as audio-editing or video-editing or graphics-editing, 1-Gig is definately the way to go. The more programs you have open concurrently, the more you'll want the 1-Gig. Note that the Asus P4C800-E Deluxe motherboard I mentioned earlier supports 4-GB of memory (4 x 1-GB sticks).

Next you need to decide what color heat-speaders you want. Since your memory is enclosed within the case, it really doesn't matter. But, since I like an ALL-BLACK system, I prefer BLACK heat-speaders. Corsair XMS memory modules that do NOT end with the letters PT are BLACK. PT stands for Platinum (the color, not the precious metal that is more expensive than gold).

Reader comment: 3. You neglected to mention that platinum-colored DIMM heat spreaders *perform better* than black heat spreaders; it's not just a cosmetic issue. This is because the lighter color helps reflect stray electrons back into the RAM chips, reducing the need for latency-inducing error correction loops. PS - Just kidding about this point. =)

Some modules, such as the TwinX1024R-3200C2, contains the letter 'R' in their name. The 'R' stands for Registered. You don't need registered RAM unless you have an AMD Athlon 64 system.

Reader comment: 4. Only Athlon 64 systems using Socket 940 require registered memory. Socket 754 and Socket 939 systems don't. (I'm not sure whether the latter two even support registered RAM.) Socket 940 is in the process of being phased out in favor of Socket 939.

Now we get into the trickier aspects: latencies (also called memory timings). If you look here, you'll see four numbers listed under the heading of Latency, such as 3-4-4-8. Lower numbers are faster, and therefore better.

At the standard PC-3200 speed, you can purchase two types of RAM that have lower latecies than the standard 3-4-4-8. The first is 'C2". The first number (of the four listed) refers to 'CAS' (Column Access Strobe). It is the most important number of the four. C2 refers to CAS-2 memory, which is a little zippier than standard CAS-3 memory. If you look at that first number for all the modules that have the letters C2 in their name, you'll notice that the first number is 2.

Reader comment: 5. For DDR memory, not CAS latency but rather RAS-to-CAS delay (tRCD) is considered to be the most important latency number by people who have done lots of testing, like MS over at Lost Circuits. It's also harder to improve tRCD than CAS, which is why those LL modules (with the tRCD of 2) are more expensive than plain CL2 modules.

You will pay a little more for CAS-2 certified memory. It is unlikely you will notice a difference in the performance of your system running it at CAS-2 timings, compared to CAS-3. But your system will run a little zippier. Personally, I prefer C2 memory, because it usually only co$ts a little more. If you look at the Black Beast, you'll see I selected 1-Gig of TwinX1024-3200C2 (Black heat-speaders) for US$280. Note that the same memory (C2) with Platinum heat-spreaders co$t a little less at $268 (at time of posting).

The other option is what is called Low-Latency memory. This is the fastest memory available at the PC-3200 speed. You can identify this memory by the letters LL in the product name, such as TwinX1024-3200LL. You usually pay a hefty premium for LL memory. At time of this posting, Newegg sells 1-Gig of the LL memory (2X512-MB sticks) for US$350. That's $70 more than the C2 RAM. The difference between C2 and LL memory is that LL memory reduces the third number to 2, whereas C2 runs the third number at a timing of 3.

See reader comment #5 posted above.

Corsair also offers a PRO series, such as the TwinX1024-3200C2PRO, which sports flashing lights on the modules that illuminate in sync with memory usage. If you can see inside your case during normal opertion, this could be cool. If not, it seems like a waste, since you will pay more for these 18 "activity LEDs".

Lastly, if you want to overclock your system, you will want/need RAM designed to run faster than standard PC-3200 speeds. To this end, Corsair offers PC-3700 (DDR-466), PC-4000 (DDR-500) and PC-4400 (DDR-550) memory. Once you move above the standard PC-3200 modules, latencies/timings are fixed at 3-4-4-8, so you don't have to be concerned about either C2 or LL. Your only questions are how much and what color heat-sinks.

Reader comment: 6. You don't *need* faster-rated memory to overclock your system. As long as your motherboard lets you adjust the FSB:memory clock frequency ratio (and most current boards do), you can usually keep the memory clock at or below your RAM's rated speed while overclocking your CPU. Faster RAM is only useful if you want to run your memory at a 1:1 ratio with your overclocked FSB (which is faster than running the memory at a lower speed).

Hope that helps. To recap:

C2 = CAS 2-3-3-6
LL = Low Latency: CAS 2-3-2-6
PT = Platinum Heat Spreader
Pro = Activity LED's
R = Registered
RE = Registered with ECC
With nothing after the part# that would be a standard Black Heat spreader.
This applies to XMS only!

There's a review posted here that compares various brands of memory. It's conclusion:

"Out of the six modules tested we found that the Corsair XMS 4000 memory line was the most stable of the bunch. It had no errors from memTEST86 and RSTpro testing when ran at default/aggressive timings at DDR500 and even at high speeds at loose timings! No other memory series we tested can boast these results. As far as overclocking is concerned, the Corsair XMS 4000 has ample head room, which allowed us to reach speeds above 520MHz on our module even when run at tighter CL2.5 timings.

The fact that Corsair took a conservative approach on setting the timings even though the memory runs fine at CL2.5 actually plays in favor of the end user. Corsair makes it simple as there is only one DDR500 level of performance to pick from (XMS and PRO series are both 3-8-4-4). The Corsair modules are able to get an extra boost of performance that is available thanks to the Hynix IC’s and the great R&D work that Corsair put into the actual PCB design. With a solid price point, no errors on three of our four testing stages, and good performance it is our belief that the Corsair XMS 4000 series is the #1 memory pick on the short list of DDR500 memory modules.

From the conclusions we found on this review and working with each of these modules for over a month we feel that the 1GB Corsair XMS 4000 dual channel kit is worthy of having our editor's choice award as our pick for the best of the DDR500 memory currently on the American market or possibly even the world."

There's a good Flash presentation on memory basics posted here.

Posted by Rad at Tuesday: 25May2004 | Comments (7)

Monday: 24.May.2004

Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content

If you get this message upon posting:

Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content:

I think it might be due to the "dash" character. Try removing dashes from your text.

I am trying to resolve this glitch.


Posted by Rad at Monday: 24May2004 | Comments (1)

Saturday: 08.May.2004

Iraqi Prison Scandal, Congress & the Military

I watched some of the Rumsfeld testimony yesterday. Seems like Congress is now waiting for the American people to weigh in.

First & foremost, after the images themselves, I was struck by the fact that it was digital technology that precipitated this whole scandal. By that, I mean, digital photographs burned to CDs, leaked to the press. This wouldn't have happened 10 years ago.

Rumsfeld himself agreed that words alone can't convey the sense of shock the photos do. I can tell you all about how cool Heisler Park is, for example. But nothing can replace photos, which is why I use so may of them on my site. What's that old adage? A picture is worth...

On a similar note, I have a funny story about when I was in the military. My mother called her congressman and told him the military was mistreating me. It was embarrassing at the time to have all my bosses call me in and ask, "So, how ya doin'?"

But it illustrated to me how the military gets very excited when congress gets involved. Maybe I'll relate the entire story later, if I get the chance. Now, many years later, it's seems pretty humorous. Back then tho, it was rather humiliating to have your mommy call and complain that her boy was being mistreated.

••• continued •••

The congressman phoned an admiral (with a big, long title after his name), who in turn phoned a captain on the East Coast (another big, long title), who phoned another captain on the West Coast (where I was stationed), who phoned my boss's boss's boss, who phoned .. well, you get the idea. They sat me down in an office with 10 people surrounding me. All the brass was there. I was scared, then embarrassed when I found out why.

I was sick with mono (infectious mononucleosis, also known as the kissing disease, which can be serious, especially for older folks) but they didn't diagnose it, and wanted me to work anyway, when I could hardly walk. It can only be detected by taking a blood sample, I believe. Anyway, they finally sent me to see a real doctor, who took blood, diagnosed it as mono, and sent me to bed for 2 weeks.

I've never been so tired in my entire life. You just feel incredibly exhausted. I mean, walking to the bathroom takes a major effort.

Anyway, I don't think congress will allow the military to shoot the soldiers and let the brass plead ignorance and go free. When I was in the military, the words "I didn't know" were never a valid excuse. Rather, they were a reason for your boss to say, "Looks like we need to find someone else to this job."

Come to think of it, excuses in general were treated that way.So it's strange for me to watch military people stand up and tesify, "I didn't know." It's THEIR JOB to know. If they can't do their job, we can find someone who will. But I was in the nuclear Navy, and excuses don't mix well with reactors. Rickover didn't tolerate that. Maybe things have changed.

Posted by Rad at Saturday: 08May2004 | Comments (1)

Wednesday: 05.May.2004

Cinco de Mayo & Sasser worm

Been out-of-town for a couple of weeks. Good to be back. Noticed there's a new nasty worm out, called W32.Sasser.B.Worm. I found it interesting that the worm "Copies itself as %Windir%\Avserve2.exe".

Then it says: "Note: %Windir% is a variable. The worm locates the Windows installation folder (by default, this is C:\Windows or C:\Winnt) and copies itself to that location." In the Windows XP Install guide, I recommend installing Windows to a partition OTHER THAN the C drive, because some viruses specifically target the C drive. But in this instance, my strategy would not have worked.

Make sure your virus definitions are up-to-date. It only affects WXP & W2K, not WMe or W9X. You can download a fix from Microsoft. You can also download a removal tool (FxSasser.exe) from Symantec. More Sasser info posted here. I downloaded both and checked my system. It said I'm clean. Also make sure you have a recent Ghost image and are protected behind a well-configured Firewall. See Ice Czar's link-farm for more in-depth info on Internet Security.

••• continued •••

I *have* however, been seeing lots of email viruses lately. Somebody sent me an email claiming to be from "". It said:

Hello user of e-mail server,
Our antivirus software has detected a large amount of viruses outgoing from your email account, you may use our free anti-virus tool to clean up your computer software. For details see the attached file.

Have a good day,
The team

Well, that was a humorous email, cuz *I* am the " team", and there is no email account named "management". They must think I'm stupid to open that attached file. NOD32 caught it right away: "Warning: NOD32 Antivirus System found the following infiltrations in the message: Info.pif - Win32/Bagle.J worm - deleted." But it was a good try. Made me chuckle.

I had a hard drive die today. Sux. It's been dying a slow death for a month now. Today it started making a wheezing noise, like a 90-year-old man with emphysema. Not long after, it took its last gasp. Fortunately, I had a recent Ghost image on hand and was able to restore all data after partitioning.

The failed drive was an IBM 120-GXP, several years old, with no active cooling. I replaced it with a Western Digital because the store didn't carry any Seagate drives, which I prefer.

At first, I couldn't see the new drive, cuz I set the jumpers wrong. I jumpered it for "Master with Slave present", when it was the only drive on the channel. After I figured that out, everything was hunky-dory.

PS - Happy Cinco de Mayo (a big deal here in SoCal).

Posted by Rad at Wednesday: 05May2004 | Comments (0)