Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dust Bunnies

I haven’t posted in a while, I have been working a lot of hours as well as doing a shift change for a week last week. That made for a very short weekend.

I basically had one day off, and didn’t feel much like house projects, so I decided to do something I had not done in a while and play some mindless games of destruction on my laptop.

I purchased a P-7811FX Gateway laptop about a year ago. I love this laptop, its fast, has an incredible 17″ screen with a native resolution of 1920×1200 which is large enough to display two documents at 100% side by side, or movies in full HD. It also has a NVidia 9800GTS which at the time the laptop was released was the best mobile video card available. I’m convinced this laptop which was exclusively sold through Bestbuy was a loss leader for them. The components it was speced with made any similarly equipped laptops 750 to 1000 dollars more than the Gateway. Bestbuy only sold this laptop for about 3 months before it was replaced by a newer more expensive Gateway which had cheaper parts and cost more.

About three months ago I had a new game I wanted to play but it ran horribly on the laptop. Because of the new job, I never had time to figure out what the problem was. After a year of installing and removing numerous different programs and drivers, I decided before I tried to fix something that worked fine before I would wipe the drive and reinstall Vista x64. Having a 1TB home server makes this a very quick task, I had the laptop back up and running in less than an hour with all the updates installed. I was rewarded for my work by not being able to run any Direct 3D games at all, OpenGL games worked fine. I tried Gateway approved video drivers, new and old, NVidia drivers and modded drivers, to no avail.

It was now time for the best tool I have ever used to fix anything, Google. Rest assured that if you have a problem your not the only special person that has had it and no one ever posts anything good on the internet, people only like to talk about the bad. A quick search took me to the Gateway forums on Notebook Review I had done some reading here before I bought the notebook. The problems I was now having were similar to problems people had with early issues of this notebook just over a year ago. Gateway quietly released a revised version of the P-7811FX and the problems went away, I was one of the fortunate ones that got the revised version.

My Google search had dropped me right in the middle of the old threads to which there was no solution, other than getting the revised laptop, that wasn’t going to help me. After doing a Google search specific to their forums I found some posts with problems similar to mine starting about three months ago. After 20 minutes of reading I had no definite solution, only a few things I could try based on it fixing one or two peoples problem. A common theme to the solutions was heat, so that’s where I went next.

Computers running anywhere other than cleanrooms are filthy pigs when you open them up, no different than the air filters on your homes heater. Luckaly the Gateway is very simple to get access to and within 5 minutes I had the heatsink, transfer tube, radiator assembly removed. Unfortunately it was completely clean.  I spread some heatsink compound on the processor and put the laptop back together, no fix, back to the forums.

I read for another hour and realized that everyone having issues had the newest revision of the laptop and everyone’s problems started about three months ago, before that no issues. I am still working on it from that angle, but with little luck. Everyone posting has different BIOS revisions installed, different video drivers, even different operating systems, basically no common theme other than three months ago.

As a band-aid fix one of the guys figured out it was a timing issue with the video card switching with different power modes.  Installing RivaTuner which is an overclocking program allows you to force the video card to remain at one timing constantly, this seems to have stopped the crashes. I was able to play Dead Space for about 30 minutes before I stopped the game, previous to that it would crash within 10 seconds of starting to play it.

Back at work Sunday night I was asked:
“Kelly, how was your weekend”
“It was very short”
“What did you do?”
“I played a video game for about 30 minutes…..”

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