Monday, March 23, 2009

COMPUTERS - Video, Sound, and PCI Latency

There is an on-going problem with video and sound, especially with games.

The issue is bad/choppy sound or even lockups when playing games. This MAY be very apparent when you have a Creative Labs sound card (even the FX model).

The cause is usually a clash between your system accessing the video and sound cards, which tend to be fast and furious during game play. Both devices use much resources when sending/receiving data, especially at today's high speeds.

The problem resides in what is known as PCI Latency (see applicable paragraph Auto Configuration in article).

PCI Latency is a function of how long any PCI device holds open access to the bus before passing on to the next device, and is handled by the BIOS. Some, but not all, devices have a means to program the latency timing (in multiples of 8).

Problems are caused by the PCI Latency timings for video and sound cars being too close together. This is, the video card still needs to process data but the bus gets released to the sound card, or visa versa.

The fix is to set the PCI Latency timings at LEAST 8 apart. That is the PCI Latency for the sound card at least -8 of the video card. On my home PC, all PCI Latency = 56 as set by the BIOS. This resulted in very choppy sound including pops & clicks.

I found one way to fix this, the PCI Latency Tool.

You install this tool, change the sound card latency, then apply and SAVE. Saving the setting will reload your settings on bootup. Make SURE you read the instructions for this tool.

CAUTION: DO NOT move or rename the [Start], Programs, folder the PCI Latency Tool is installed in.

On my home PC, I used this tool to set the latency for my sound card to 48:
  • Video = 56 (BIOS default)

  • Sound = (56 - 8) = 48

As a result, I get very, very little chopping/popping. And IF I do, it is very low volume.

PC GAMES - Steam or Not to Steam

There is a controversy on Steam DLC (Download Content) service (Valve Corporation).

I personally ran into Steam when it first came out with the release, on 11/16/2004, of Half-Life 2. The game required installation of the Steam service.

This is still true today for all games linked with Steam. This service not only provides downloads of games, and game updates, but is used for game activation.

Now, the following is very subjective, but I hate Steam! So do others.

  1. First, and foremost, I do NOT play online games. I play single-player games exclusively

  2. I am NOT online 95% of the time, and defiantly not while playing games

  3. I never update ANYTHING AUTOMATICALLY (with the exception of AntiVirus Updates), especially games

The problem with Steam games is that you MUST install the service AND be online. In the case of Half-Life 2, even after activation via Steam, if I uninstalled Steam, Half-Life 2 was also uninstalled! I admit, I went berserk.

This is just plain WRONG! No one should be forced to install a service just to play off-line, single-player games. Note that there are other games that require activation, but do NOT require nor install a service to do so. Activation takes you to a WEB site, and a Activation Key is installed on your system.

The people who do like Steam, of course, tend to be online players, which is understandable.

For those who want to avoid Steam Games, use the link to see a list.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

WINXP - Broken Bookmarks, DeadLinks

How many times have we tried to go to a Favorites' link (aka URL) and got an error. This is sometimes called a Dead Link. There are tools that can verify/check your Favorites folder and verify the links.

The one I just found is AM-DeadLinks (freeware)

Some features: (use screenshot below for clarification)

  • Two modes of scanning and verifying links

    • Normal which only verifies links

    • FavIcons scan which verifies links AND downloads site icons

  • From the dialog, you can:

    • Edit link Properties (aka change name or URL)

    • Delete the link if it is broken

    • Launch the link in a dialog browser or change to full-screen browser

Depending on how many links you have in Favorites, AM-DeadLinks will take a long time to scan all entries in the normal mode, and noticeably longer in the FavIcon mode.

In the screenshot, in the bottom Statusbar, note that I had 1916 Bookmarks, which took a good 10-15min to scan (at work using T1 broadband). Also note the Connections: 10, which means this tool is fast but uses much bandwidth. Therefore I suggest you run this tool with NO other windows open, especially a WEB Browser.

Just like any WinXP window with columns, if you click one (like Status) the display box will sort by the contents of the column. Clicking the Status column will put broken links at the top. And right-clicking a broken link brings up a Context Menu with options.

Check it out.

AM-DeadLinks Dialog
(click to enlarge)

WINXP - New nVidia Card Tool - nHancer

I have always used nVidia Video Cards, but since v178.n driver release there has been one feature that does not work properly. Specifically the 3D Settings panel with the Show programs on this computer enabled (checkbox).

Prior to v178.n, enabling this feature would AUTOMATICALLY list all programs recognized by nVidia on your system. Starting with v178.n it does NOT work.

Thanks to a nVidia Newsgroup post I was pointed to a tool that solves this problem and more.

nHancer (donationware), Advanced Control Panel and Profile Editor for nVidia cards

nHancer is the tool that empowers both experts and inexperienced users to fully utilize the possibilities of the graphic card.

Note that this tool ONLY deals with 3D Settings. The features I like are..

  • It does search and find the programs on your system

  • Your Custom Profiles (profiles you have changed from default) are color coded (light-blue Profile Names in screenshot)

  • You can create a Custom Profile for a group of programs (see below)

What I mean by "group of programs" = (as an example) I have 3 CSI games on my home PC, since I use the same 3D Settings for all 3, I just create a Custom Profile "CSI" and add the executable filename for each game to the Profile's list. Therefore, whenever I start any of the 3 CSI games, the same Profile is used.

Try it, you'll like it.

nHancer Main Dialog
(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

WINXP - File Backup Alternative

As posted in a previous article on backups, most backup utilities (like WinXP's NTBackup) perform file backups. Also, as previously stated, file backups cannot backup files that are in-use.

Having said that, there is an alternative file backup utility that you can use, a good ZIP utility.

The ZIP utility I highly recommend is WinZIP Pro (see sidebar)

Recommend the Pro version for backups. Also, I highly suggest you download the WinZIP Command Line Support Add-On.

Why do file backups with WinZIP?
  • ZIP backup files are smaller than NTBackup files (which surprised me)
  • Using the Command Line Add-On is faster than the normal WinZIP GUI for large backups

The following is an example of using WinZIP's Command Line Add-On (wzzip.exe) to backup My Documents:

rem MyDocsZIP.cmd
@echo off

"C:\Program Files\WinZip\wzzip.exe" -rp "C:\WinZIP_LoadZone\" "C:\Documents and Settings\profile-name\My Documents"

echo .
echo .

C:\WinZIP_LoadZone is a folder I use for WinZIP and download operations. This folder can be whatever you wish, EXCEPT My Documents.

You use Notepad to create a CMD file (see 1st line in example script), then create a shortcut to run it.

At work, I move to my private folder on our Fileserver. At home, I move to an external hard drive I use for backups.

Need I say, read the documentation on how to use WinZIP's Command Line Add-On.