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Installed a new video card

Posted 2010-02-01 in Technology

The four year old GeForce 7800 GTX card in my Dell XPS system died yesterday. I could get the system to boot Windows XP in “safe mode” (VGA resolution), but no more that that. I did some research on the web and decided to take a trip down to Best Buy… not my preferred place to buy computer parts… but the price was “good enough” for what I wanted and I could have the card in an hours, tops.

I’m really happy with the card I bought… and if you’re interested, read on.

A Good Four Year Run

When I bought this Dell XPS 600 system four years ago, I really loaded the system up as a “gamer’s dream system.” I put dual GeForce 7800 GTX cards running in SLI for superior graphics performance. This setup lasted perhaps 18 months before things started getting a bit flaky… bootup issues, game hangups, and the like. I decided the power supply couldn’t handle the load for two cards, so removed one card and things stabilized. I’ve considered buying a new video card in the past… newer games aren’t so pretty anymore… low frame rates. And I’ve been wanting to play with CUDA… which required a newer generation of boards.

The Death of a Video Card

Well, for good or for bad, I got my chance to upgrade my video card yesterday. While playing King’s Bounty: Armored Princess, the graphics in the game started to “go crazy”… random triangle and bizarre shapes. Then my computer froze completely. After rebooting, I couldn’t get KBAP to start at all… it would seem to run for a few seconds, then freeze at the main game option screen. So in troubleshooting the problem…

  • Checked the integrity of the game (this is a Steam game, this option looked like the equivalent of reinstallation)
  • Changed game display options (resolution, graphics settings)
  • Installed the latest NVIDIA display drivers
  • Moved the video display card to the other PCI-E slot (cleaning the connections and dust while I was digging)
  • Tried the other 7800 card which had been sitting around for 2.5 years (the computer wouldn’t even boot with this card)
  • Put the original card back in… in the original PCI-E slot

After all of this work, as is often the case, the situation was worse than when I started. Now I had odd patterns onscreen while booting (stuck memory bits, probably) and Windows XP booted into a black screen. Similar behavior from Ubuntu 9.10. I could boot Windows in “safe mode”… which I used to do my research to find a suitable replacement board. I found a GeForce 250 series board at Best Buy for roughly $150 which looked like it’d do everything I wanted without breaking the bank. So off I went to Best Buy.

PNY GTS 250 w/1024Mb

Well surprise, surprise… Best Buy didn’t have the same card which I scoped online (even though the website said the store had this card in-stock). So I found myself in “debate mode” trying to balance the various features of different boards. Rather than list all of the board’s features, you can see what I bought at this link… PNY GTS 250. Interestingly, I paid more than the price listed here… or than listed at the Best Buy website. Sucks, but not worth the 30 mile round trip to recoup the difference… one would hope they’d do so, yes? Anyway, the following is a picture of the board… I was surprised at how short the board was and had no problems installing it in my full-size Dell case.

PNY GTS 250

An Awesome Windows Experience

I got the board home and plugged it into the PCI-E slot. Booted into Windows XP the very first attempt… Windows “chugged” a bit installing drivers automatically… then said it was done and my card was ready for use. I did insert the CD which came with the board and attempt to install drivers… but Windows had apparently taken care of everything, as I was warned that the drivers on the CD were older than the ones installed (so I said “No” to installing them).

So I started KBAP… and no hangup this time! I brought up the game’s video options screen and cranked every setting to maximum. The game still ran perfectly with no sign of slow frame rates… not to mention now with an absolutely stunning display.

So I tried a different game… Borderlands. Same story as KBAP, brought up the options screen and set everything to maximum. Holy cow… a stunning display… no jaggies… very high frame rates. Pretty amazing how far these graphics cards have come in the last four years.

An Awesome Linux Experience

So today I decided to boot Ubuntu 9.10 and see what would happen. Another great experience… Ubuntu booted with absolutely no issues. So time for an “acid test”… ever since I first upgraded to Ubuntu 9.x (first Jackalope, then Koala), I’ve been unable to get the proprietary-and-optimized NVIDIA drivers to work. I’d spent hours with no luck… and eventually gave up.

One odd thing I found running Ubuntu with this card was that the card’s fan would not stop… it stayed at maximum speed. While not terribly annoying, I was interested also in seeing if installing the NVIDIA drivers would also “deal” with the fan issue. So I installed the proprietary drivers… the “NVIDIA accelerated graphics driver (version 185)”… then rebooted. Once again, a seamless experience and Ubuntu rebooted with now issues. And woohoo… the fan was now on “low speed” and not “leaf blower” mode.

So the next thing to do was to let Ubuntu know that I wanted to see all of the display “bells and whistles”… like “rubbery” windows which wobble when you move them around. In the System->Preferences menu, I mistakenly selected the “Display” option… and was asked whether I wanted to use “the graphics driver vendor’s tool”… I said “yes.” I was pleased to be presented with the interface shown below… which shows me lots of information about the NVIDIA board… including a thermal monitor for the GPU. Very nice.

NVidia X Server Settings

So next I tried Appearance->Visual Effects and got the screen shown below. I selected “Extra” (as this is a really good video board) and was rewarded with all sorts of special effects dealing with windows (including the rubber effect). Again, very nice.

Gnome Appearance Preferences

Summary

  • I’m very happy so far with my PNY GTS 250 board.
  • Painless installation of both hardware and software.
  • Works great in Windows XP and Ubuntu 9.10.
  • Stunningly beautiful graphics with very high frame rates.

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