Since I last wrote, I've had more reason than ever to appreciate the benefits of membership in the TPC. Having finally decided that my previous PC was too far gone for me to deal with any longer, and having--as I mentioned last issue--had to resort to producing the AJ on my office notebook machine, I resolved to replace at least enough of my system to ensure reliability for another year or so, anyway. My original intention was to upgrade just enough to make do comfortably until Pentium IV machines become more affordable, and then buy an off-the-shelf system, probably from Gateway.
Recent news seems to have made a Gateway in my future much less likely, but that's another story; at the time that was my thinking, so I did a little research into what I'd need for an interim system. I had a brand-new 80 GB HDD and reasonably new--at least serviceable--Creative Platinum Live sound and Riva TNT2 Ultra graphics boards. What I needed, it seemed to me, was a new motherboard and CPU, memory to go along with them, and a case in which to put them. I looked around the web to get an idea of what would fit my needs, and came up with too much information. There were just too many choices, so I posted a request for advice in the TPC newsgroups. Almost immediately, I had informed, specific suggestions for good motherboard/CPU combinations. Armed with these, it was off to Akihabara, hoping to beat an impending rainstorm.
I ended up with an Abit motherboard and an Intel Pentium III 1 GHz CPU, a 400W power supply equipped case, and a couple of 256MB CL3/PC 133 RAM modules (more about these later). Since the case is aluminum, it wasn't that hard to lug all my purchases onto a train just ahead of the rain. Putting it all together was less trouble than I had expected, and with an entirely fresh installation of Win98, I anticipated no trouble getting the almost-new system up and running. I should, of course, have known better.
Everything went pretty fine during installation until Windows actually started, and then I'd get spontaneous reboots, freezes, and whatnot. I checked BIOS settings, connections, and whatever else I could think of, and must have reformatted and reinstalled at least a dozen times; I spent a very frustrating 18 hours or so. On another machine, I discussed the probable causes and remedies in the newsgroups, and once again got lots of useful, substantive suggestions from many people (have a look at the "search party" thread in the hardware newsgroup). Along in there somewhere, I discovered that although the CPU and memory were both rated at 133 MHz, if I set the system memory speed to 100, everything worked great. At 133, it worked fine but only with one of the modules in place. The upshot seems to be that the (cheap, bulk) RAM modules I got aren't up to the task of working together at that frequency. "...signal degradation on the memory bus caused by the increased frequency and the electrical characteristics of the SDRAM chips..." is how Roy Rice described it, and a colleague at the office concurs that this is the likely cause. So I'll be getting some higher quality, brand name memory shortly.
But the system is working very quickly and smoothly at slightly reduced memory speed, and performs much better than the old one it replaced. I have to admit that it's unsettling to have a system that's almost completely reliable.
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