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A Tale of Two Monitors

Filed under: General — 19day @ 00:27:29

I guess I am in one respect like the typical male (well, two respects) in that I like gadgetry. Though I ride very late on the technology wave, I still like getting useless stuff sometimes, when I feel like I really really really want it (harken back to my impulse buy of the PS2).

Anyway, what I felt like getting now was a Dual Monitor setup. I had gotten one last year just after new years, when I was desperately sick, my first flatscreen. What a day it was. But that was all part of the plan, as I eventually wanted to get a second monitor. I knew something else was in my way though, as my video card only had one vga output. Drat.

So I had been toying around more recently about finally getting the videocard and second monitor, but I had no idea what kind of videocard I needed, since I wasn’t really sure of what I had, and what had changed. See, I’m interested in computers in the sense of what you do with them after they are on. I’m more into the software. I used to be interested in the hardware, but I never had money to buy stuff, or got magazines, or anything, so now my information is desperately out of date. I remember when RAM had to be balanced between the two sticks. Nowadays, wanting to upgrade my RAM, I have no idea what crazy acronymed RAM will even work with my 5 year old computer, it’s hopeless.

Which brings me to the first painful realization of the evening, I suck at hardware, always have, probably always will. I tend to let my brother handle hardware installations, usually because I’d rather have someone else to blame. Now, at work, it’s another matter. My department rolled out some Dual Monitor setups (which also required a new video card) and I was ready and willing to install it myself. Why? Because if something went wrong, we had a whole other department to help. But with my computer, not only am I on my own, but being my only computer, I can’t get online to check out error messages and such in case something goes very very wrong. Plus my computer’s information has become like another vital organ, if it dies, so does a part of me. Pathetic.

Anyway, I went to my friendly neighborhood futureshop and spent some time looking at the video cards. I had been purposely looking for a GeForce 8600, from previous discussions with people at work. However, imagine my bafflement when I saw things with strange prefixes before the name, and more weird shit after the number. Wha wha what? One card at 8500 was priced much lower than one at the 7000’s, and I assumed the higher numbers meant better. And I saw the 8500 priced significantly less than the 8600 hundred. Like over a dollar a unit in the difference, the memory of the 8600 was less, what? Then I saw, though it was less memory, it was DDR3 memory, so I guess the 3 makes it better than the DDR2 in the other one, by at least a couple of factors of memory capacity itself, I had no idea that sequels to Dance Dance Revolution held so much sway (I jest, of course, I know there is a difference, it was just hard for me to spot).

In the end, I picked the 8500 some such. But I noticed that it was for PCI-Express. Did I have PCI-Express… I know I had PCI… was it express? Are they all Express?…. Should I have looked inside the computer before coming? Yes. Alas, I figured I’d just ask the guy…. my computer is around 4-5 years old, but it runs a P4 processor, knowing the motherboard would have to be compatible with that, is it likely I’d have a PCI-Express slot? The answer was “Sure”. I think it was unlikely for them to answer anything else. I also somehow assumed I was using on-board video, somehow forgetting the mini-fiasco of getting Proteva to replace the card they put in the box with the one I actually ordered, some other GeForce card. All I remembered about that one before going to Futureshop was it was 64M, meaning virtually anything I got would be better. But did I have PCI-E…. seemed every video card there was either PCI-E, or AGP. Someone told me once that AGP = bad, so I just figured.. of course, I have that slot. And bought the thing.

Oh, and I also picked up the second monitor as well. I stood around the monitor/computer area trying to look like I needed to be served, but no one ever approached me. They all looked too busy trying to sell some other people some apple products, claiming Windows couldn’t do the things they wanted to do (some of which seemed to me to be flat out lies, or half-truths, but what the hell, iMacs will probably keep them out of harm’s way). I had wanted a standard-aspect ratio monitor, as in, non-widescreen, because fullscreen games don’t seem to understand that throwing the monitor into 640*480 just isn’t going to work out the way it thinks. But for some reason, those monitors were all crazy expensive, compared to comparable widescreens, so I just grabbed one from a stack, which is how I got the first one, and it worked out okay.

So I get home, ready to power down my computer and do the magic swap. I could install a harddrive, or another PCI card okay most likely, but I’d never done anything like a videocard. It worried me, because if I screwed it up, I’d have no display to help me figure things out. I opened up the case, saw the old card there. Turns out it was an Nvidia GeForce MX440, from good old 2002, piece of crap. It was dusty, I used the can of dusting gas to clean it off (not a can of air, it contains asphyxiating explosive gasses, presumably for my comfort and safety), and then I saw… that doesn’t look like the slot that can handle the pins in the new card. I took a closer look and compared it with the new-card’s quick setup sheet. That looks like AGP… god dammit. I boot the computer and go to the device properties for the display, and it confirms it, definitely AGP, and not even good AGP, but 4x, which I didn’t learn until later. Basically, all those good cards are out of bounds because my computer sucks. As I didn’t feel like even entertaining the possibility of getting a new motherboard, I packed it all up and went back to Futureshop and returned it. They asked if it was defective, I said I was, my computer couldn’t handle it. I saw them type in that the card was defective, so I’ve learned never to be funny with these people. Presumably they will work out that the card is fine.

Anyway, went back to the wall-o-computer-stuff and looked just at the AGP ones. Oh, wait…. AGP-8x… what the hell is that? Sides of boxes say helpful things like “Required: AGP-8x compatible slot” and “Some motherboards violate AGP standards, card may not physically fit”. This does nothing to build my confidence. What the hell should I get? At least having seen the card already in the computer, it had 3 sections of pins, do these look like that? No. I finally find one that has the features I want, while being old enough to work with my computer (for XP, no mention of Vista), and yet is far more expensive than the one I just returned, with is all newy and Vista-ready-y. *sigh*. I buy the smegger. I end up at the same cashier to whom I returned the first card, she gave no indication that she recognized me. People are strange, when you’re a stranger.

I get home, uninstall the previous card’s drivers (or the manual says demons will devour my soul) and shut off the computer. I slowly and carefully remove the old card, and slowly and carefully install the new one. Ah, the next step… attach power. What, this thing needs a power feed? The old one didn’t… I guess it needs more to pump out all those triangles, yeah. Well, I knew higher end ones needed more power, but I figured all it needed was a good enough PSU and pulled it from the socket or something. Oh yeah, turns out my new PSU is just good enough to handle this thing, the first card wouldn’t have worked even if I had a PCI-E slot. Of course, I only remembered to check this once I found I had to plug the thing in. The card came with it’s own power lines, but I found a spare lead from the PSU and plugged it in, hoping for the best.

After rebooting into glorious 640*480 mode, installing the drivers off the CD, rebooting again, and changing the display mode myself (somehow I figured it would pick a good one once the drivers were there), I was set. The one downside to the card is that it’s not DVI-DVI, but DVI-VGA or whatever. On my old card, I was on the bad connector anyway, so I never knew DVI regardless. So I took the new monitor (and given it’s number, assumed it was better) and plugged it into the DVI port, and the old monitor into the second. The old one apparently could handle DVI (as all flatscreens I think can, by their nature), but it didn’t provide the cord, at least I think it didn’t… it’s been a year, leave me alone).

So now, I’ve got the dualscreen goodness, and for my own reference, here is what I’ve got
Card: Nvidia GeForce 7600 GS OC (512MB DDR2)
Primary Monitor: LG L206W 1680*1050 DVI
Secondary Monitor: LG L204WT 1680*1050 VGA

Games still don’t understand it. Neither does GotoMyPC, at least, not natively, but I can make the window span and it sort of works, except since my dual screens are widescreen, while work ones are non-widescreen (Pan and scan? heh) then I have less than optimal screen useage, alas)

I think the next upgrade to my computer should be system ram, I have a paltry 512M, and I’ve been meaning to get another stick. While I was in there I did see that it was just on one stick, and I have 2 more banks to play with. But I wonder what friggen alphabetsoup kind of ram it is.

I guess I’ll just listen to the beepcodes.

Edit: I have my motherboard manual, it’s an Asus P4B533, and says this about the memory:
3 x 184-pin DDR DIMM sockets for up to 2GB memory
Supports PC2100/PC1600 unbuffered ECC/non-ECC DDR DIMMs

Which is great, except CPU-Z tells me that my memory is PC2700 (166 MHz). What? Looks like I’ll have to crawl in and see for myself. But what if CPU-Z isn’t wrong? Hate.

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