02.02.11

Replacing the ATI Radeon 5450 with an NVidia GT 430

Posted in Home Theater, Intel, Windows at 11:11 am by mike

So I had reached the end of my rope with the MSI ATI Radeon card on a couple fronts. I had HDMI bitstreaming working with Arcsoft TMT (as long as AnyDVD was running), and I could even put up with the flaky Catalyst UI and drivers. But I was stymied trying to get the refresh rate set to 23.976, which the Kuro PRO-141FD will execute a 3:3 pulldown for picture perfect Blu-Ray playback at 71.928.   Given the cost of the graphics card vs the 60″ plasma, it was time to make a change.

So with $75 of Amazon coupons burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to give the Zotac NVidia GT430 a shot. Since it goes in the HTPC next to the TV, silent cooling was a must.   Gaming performance is a non-issue for me, and since the Kuro isn’t getting replaced anytime soon, 3D video support wasn’t important either, though the Arcsoft BD & 3D assistant gave the card a thumbs up on all accounts.

Upon opening the package, the Zotac NVidia card looks much bigger than the MSI ATI with the giant heat sink, but both cards take up two slots in the machine.  The Zotac actually has two brackets, which make it a nice secure installation. Also, the Zotac has an DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort connections, while the MSI had VGA, DVI and HDMI. What a difference 9 months makes.

MSI ATI Radeon HD5450

MSI ATI Radeon HD5450

Zotac ZONE GeForce GT430

Zotac ZONE GeForce GT430

Installation was painless, it was time to download the NVidia drivers. A couple things impressed me right off the bat:

  • Clean install option – The NVidia drivers will blow away all previous NVidia registry settings and configuration when checking this box.   Very nice when you’ve mucked around with one too many registry hacks.
  • No “crap-ware” in install.   Thank you, I don’t need a 2 week trial to LOTR online…
  • Windows performance index:   ATI 5450: 4.9,  NVidia 430: 6.7!   Very impressive for a fanless card still less than $100.

So the next thing to try was getting to 1920x1080p@23.976.     First of all, the NVidia Control Panel was so much easier to navigate than even the ATI Catalyst Beta (the old ATI UI was horrid.  The latest is bearable).   From there, getting to 23Hz couldn’t of been easier.     Although it’s not listed in the defaults, click Custom, and 23p, as well as 59p, are at the top of the list.

No need to dig into the “Create Custom Resolution” dialog (but I wish the ATI UI had that!)

So that was too easy. Hmm… what about my other Blu-Ray playback issues? While I’ve had HD bitstreaming working with the ATI card for a while, I’ve had two other problems with the Arcsoft TMT software. First off, for some reason the TMT player refuses to play ANY BD disc. No explanation given, and all the HDCP tests come out fine. This started happening with their 3.0.1-170 release, and continues through 5.0.1.87. The only fix I’ve found is to install Slysoft AnyDVD .   Unfortunately, the problem wasn’t the ATI card in this case, and I still need AnyDVD to watch BD.    Not the end of the world since I already own it, but a little disappointing since the software has questionable DMCA legal status in the US.  (BTW: If you haven’t figured it out by now, do NOT use your HTPC as your sole Blu-Ray player, unless you want to spend twice the money for twice the headaches.)

The second problem I’ve encountered with TMT is during BD playback (with bitstreaming) the audio will get out of sync if I decide to pause, rew or fastfwd.   Fairly irritating.   Luckily, Arcsoft has created a hotfix for ATI cards if you encounter this problem, and that seemed to work, though I needed to re-apply it on the latest  version.    Now for the Nvidia… Change refresh rate to 23.967, pop in the Inception BD, press play and wait for the DTS-HD MSTR display on the SC-07…   DTS!?!?!   WTF!!!!!   Arrrggghhh!!!   After getting this far, I’m no longer bitstreaming the uncompressed HD audio track!

OK.  Off to Arcsoft Forums to see if anyone else is experiencing this.     Found one guy from back in Dec, but it’s not clear he knows what he’s doing….    Post my problem…. Next day check the forum (no email subscription!?).  Hmm… it seems Arcsoft has only certified the 260.99 driver, while I had downloaded 266.58.    Back to the NVidia site, archived drivers, 260.99, download.    Remove 266, install 260 (with the clean install option), reboot, play BD…. WHOOO HOOO!!! DTS-HD MSTR is back!    AND no problem with pause, ff, rew, etc all at true 1080p24!

So one thing I noticed is the 260 “Clean Install” check box didn’t do such a great job.   Even though I had removed the old driver and rebooted before installing, I was still prompted by numerous “Newer File Exists” messages during the install.  Furthermore more, the nice list of resolutions you see above all showed up blank with the older driver, but Windows Monitor properties still said I had 59Hz and 23Hz available .      I should probably go back to a restore point prior to installing 266 and then install the 260 version again but it’s working the way I want, so I’m not sweating it for now.   I may just wait for Arcsoft to support the 266 drivers, and then upgrade again.

So while not perfect, the NVidia still wins the day.     Time to not touch it if it ain’t broke.   We’ll see how long that lasts!  🙂

07.24.10

CPU Envy

Posted in Intel, Windows at 1:32 am by mike

When I first started working for SCO in 1989, Xenix was the ONLY 32 bit operating system available for the Intel 386 platform.   In fact, in 1983, when Linus Torvals was 14 years old, SCO had Xenix running on two platforms:  the Mac Lisa and the Intel 8086.   Yes,  years before Tanenbaum’s Minux was released, SCO had a AT&T System III kernel running in 640k of memory.   And Microsoft even paid them to do it!  But for that story, see wikipedia.

So when I arrived at SCO, their primary focus was still writing OS software and I was working on the X Windows port to the new SCO Unix, the successor to Xenix.  I started with a Zenith 16MHz 386 on my desk, and at the time, that was considered a lot of CPU to dedicate to one user!  But the best part of the job was being one of the first people to work on the 486 in order to get the X server running on the platform.   Of course, I didn’t get it on my desk, I had to drive over the hill to Olivetti for a few weeks (where people smoked in their cubicles!) and work on the machine there because there were so few of them.   Later on, I had the same task on one of the first Pentium systems in order to demo an X Windows application running faster than the Sun Workstations of the time.

Those were the days when it was simple to tell which was the faster Intel Processor.   You just looked at the name: Pentium, Pentium II, Pentium III, and the MHz number and it was obvious.  With the Pentium 4 we were up to 10K MIPS.   And then Intel decided it was better to confuse the market.   So now let me ask a simple question:  Rank the following Intel processors in order of performance:

Intel Core i7 820QM @ 1.73GHz

Intel Core2 Quad @ 2.83GHz

Intel Xeon X5670 @ 2.93GHz

Well you have to figure this is easy,  the Xeon line was introduced in 2001, the Core 2 in 2006 and the core I7 in 2010!   So even given the lower GHz number, the i7 must be the fastest of the bunch, right?    Turns out to be just the opposite.   The i7 is the slowest processor listed, and the Xeon is the fasted, with the Core 2 winding up in the middle.     Of course, the Xeon platform has been redesigned a few times since 2001, and if you look at this handy chart from PassMark, you’ll see that an Intel Core i7 X 980 @ 3.33GHz does now top the list as Intel’s fastest processor, but the models vary widely below that depending on everything from cache size, to bus speed. (And they haven’t listed the Xeon x7350)   It’s been fairly widely recognized now that increasing clock speed no longer gets you the performance returns it once did.

But how does this help you decide which Intel CPU to buy?  Well there’s one more piece of information you need, and that obviously is price.   In this case, the folks at pricewatch are nice enough to give us the latest CPU prices for both Intel and AMD (ignore the PassMark price, it’s already out-of-date).   So now you can see how much each of these cost.   But the thing you really want is a mash-up page (sorry, someone with more time than I needs to build it) that shows you the PassMark/$ figure.    Going back to the three I listed:

Intel Core i7 820QM @ 1.73GHz 3500/$250 -> 14PM/$

Intel Core2 Quad Q9300 @ 2.50GHz 3500/$149.00 -> 23PM/$

Intel Xeon X5670 @ 2.93GHz 9600/$1359 -> 7PM/$

So it’s interesting that with the cheaper processors, you actually get more bang for the buck than the ultra high end.   Another thing that adds to the cost is the power draw.   So I’ve been eyeballing the Q9550S, which is the low power version of the Q9550.  The lower power also means less heat, which means less fan noise, which is always a big win in a HTPC to replace my poor Intel Core2 Duo E8500 @ 3.16GHz.

The E8500 only rates 2400 on the PassMark test, while the Q9550 is at 4300.  But once again we find at $148, the E8500 is getting 16PM/$ while the Q9550S at $350 is only 12.   Now do I really need 2 more processor cores to rip all the old Disney video tapes to disk?   Probably not, but it’s not like you need 4WD on that SUV, but you sure like having it…