TideLog Archive for the “Tech” Category

I’ve had this problem a few times on my laptop. It occurs mostly when the power suddenly goes off and it switches to battery. You lose all capacity monitoring, and can’t tell how much is left. The system tray icon changes to this:

no battery detected

Microsoft’s forums are hilarious. Their “Most Valuable Professionals” give the funniest canned cut ‘n’ paste responses, from, “Your power driver is corrupt” to your “Windows needs reinstalling!”. I know exactly what causes it, and it ain’t anything to do with “power drivers” or corrupt Windows. It’s the little monitoring chip in the battery. Like a lot of integrated electronics, it sometimes gets confused. Sudden switchovers from mains to battery tend to cause it, especially if there’s any surges from the battery as it kicks in.

The age old advice of “Reboot!” is the wise advice. If that doesn’t cure it, turn your machine off, remove the mains and battery, and hold your power button down to discharge the circuitry in your device (apart from the RTC circuit, but this doesn’t matter), that should cure it. Removing the battery opens the circuit to the sensing system in the battery, and resets it.

Simples. I hate MVP’s, they go on a 5 day course and think that gives them a Professional title? I’ve done MVP courses, but have the skills and years of software and electrical experience to further and back them up

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Many electronics manufacturers, including HDD manufacturers like Seagate, have been using the industry standard “Mean Time Between Failures” (MTBF) to quantify disk drive average failure rates. MTBF has proven useful in the past, but it is flawed.

To address issues of reliability, Seagate is changing to another standard: “Annualized Failure Rate” (AFR).

MTBF is a statistical term relating to reliability as expressed in power on hours (p.o.h.) and is often a specification associated with hard drive mechanisms.
It was originally developed for the military and can be calculated several different ways, each yielding substantially different results. It is common to see MTBF ratings between 300,000 to 1,200,000 hours for hard disk drive mechanisms, which might lead one to conclude that the specification promises between 30 and 120 years of continuous operation. This is not the case! The specification is based on a large (statistically significant) number of drives running continuously at a test site, with data extrapolated according to various known statistical models to yield the results.

Based on the observed error rate over a few weeks or months, the MTBF is estimated and not representative of how long your individual drive, or any individual product, is likely to last. Nor is the MTBF a warranty – it is representative of the relative reliability of a family of products. A higher MTBF merely suggests a generally more reliable and robust family of mechanisms (depending upon the consistency of the statistical models used). Historically, the field MTBF, which includes all returns regardless of cause, is typically 50-60% of projected MTBF.

Seagate’s new standard is AFR. AFR is similar to MTBF and differs only in units. While MTBF is the probable average number of service hours between failures, AFR is the probable percent of failures per year, based on the manufacturer’s total number of installed units of similar type. AFR is an estimate of the percentage of products that will fail in the field due to a supplier cause in one year. Seagate has transitioned from average measures to percentage measures.

MTBF quantifies the probability of failure for a product, however, when a product is first introduced: this rate is often a predicted number, and only after a substantial amount of testing or extensive use in the field can a manufacturer provide demonstrated or actual MTBF measurements. AFR will better allow service plans and spare unit strategies to be set.

Hard drive reliability is closely related to temperature. By operational design, the ambient temperature is 86°F. Temperatures above 122°F or below 41°F, decrease reliability. Directed airflow up to 150 linear feet/min. is recommended for high speed drives.

The failure rate does not include drive returns with “no trouble found”, excessive shock failure, or handling damage.

Here is an example excerpt from a Product Manual, in this case for the Barracuda ES.2 Near-Line Serial ATA drive, which we installed in a backup server at Kana’s datacentre:

The product shall achieve an Annualized Failure Rate – AFR – of 0.73% (Mean Time Between Failures – MTBF – of 1.2 Million hrs) when operated in an environment that ensures the HDA case temperatures do not exceed 40°C. Operation at case temperatures outside the specifications in Section 2.9 may increase the product Annualized Failure Rate (decrease MTBF). AFR and MTBF are population statistics that are not relevant to individual units.
AFR and MTBF specifications are based on the following assumptions for business critical storage system environments:

  • 8,760 power-on-hours per year.
  • 250 average motor start/stop cycles per year.
  • Operations at nominal voltages.
  • Systems will provide adequate cooling to ensure the case temperatures do not exceed 40°C. Temperatures outside the specifications in Section 2.9 will increase the product AFR and decrease MTBF.

1.2 million hours MTBF? I’d have expected that kind of lifetime from an older hard drive, from when they were made to LAST, from the days of manufacturers like Connor and ExelStor, but you certainly won’t get THAT kind of running hours from a modern drive, certainly not 1.2 million hours CONSTANT running!

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Bad sectors are little clusters of data on your hard disk that cannot be read. More than that, though, they have the potential to cause real damage to your hard drive (catastrophic failure) if they build up over time, stressing your hard drive’s arm, which contains the read/write head, there are two for each platter, one for each side. Bad sectors are fairly common with normal computer use and the imperfections of the world we live in. Like chip fabrication and LCD panel manufacturing, HDD manufacture is a very critical, precise process, and like a TFT with bad pixels from the factory, you do get bad sectors with a HDD due to imperfections when it’s made. The manufacturers make legal allowances for a certain limit to these imperfections before warranty claims can be made, like the legal limit of 5 dead pixels on a TFT. However, there are several simple steps you can take to prevent HDD bad sectors and to repair any that you do have. Having bad sectors will slow down computer performance as well, as your drive takes time attempting to read them. Here is a step-by-step guide. The most common questions I get as a computer engineer are “What is a sector?”, and “How are HDD bad sectors created?”

A sector is simply a unit of information stored on your hard disk. Rather than being a mass of fluid information, your hard disk stores things neatly into “sectors”, a bit like us humans putting things into boxes, and the box only holds so much, and all boxes are the same size. The standard sector size is 512 bytes.

There are various problems that can cause HDD bad sectors:

  • Improper shutdown of Windows, especially power loss while the HDD is writing data;
  • Defects of the hard disk, including general surface wear, pollution of the air inside the unit due to a dirty or clogged air filter, or the head touching the surface of the disk;
  • Other poor quality or aging hardware, including dodgy data cables, an overheated hard drive, and even a power supply problem, if your drive’s power is erratic;
  • Malware.

Hard and soft bad sectors

There are two types of bad sectors – hard and soft.

Hard bad sectors are the ones that are physically damaged (that can happen because of a head crash if your drive is dropped while running and writing data), or in a fixed magnetic state. If your computer is bumped while the hard disk is writing data, is exposed to extreme heat, or simply has a faulty mechanical part that is allowing the head to contact the disk surface, a “hard bad sector” might be created. Hard bad sectors cannot be repaired, but they can be prevented. The heads of a hard drive float on the air cushion generated by the platters spinning, they fly less than the width of a human hair away from the platters, even a small speck of dust is like a mountain, so knocks are definitely to be avoided.

Soft bad sectors occur when an error correction code (ECC) found in the sector does not match the content of the sector. Whenever a file is written to a sector, the drive calculates a “checksum”, which is used to verify the data, if it doesn’t match upon read, the drive knows the sector is weak. A soft bad sector is sometimes explained as the “hard drive formatting wearing out”, in other words the magnetic field is weakening, like an old video cassette – they are logical errors, not physical damage ones. These are repairable by overwriting everything on the disk with zeros. Like tapes and CD’s, the magnetic surface on a hard disk is not infinite, it is affected by other magnetic fields around it, so data recovery guys like me recommend regularly imaging a drive directly to another, frequently, to keep the data fresh and readable.

Preventing bad sectors

You can help prevent bad sectors (always better than trying to repair them, as they say prevention is better than cure!) by paying attention to both the hardware and the software on your computer.

Preventing bad sectors caused by hardware:

  • Make sure your computer is kept cool and dust free;
  • Make sure you buy good quality hardware from respected brands. Cheap RAM and power supplies are my biggest culprits from experience;
  • Always move your computer carefully, and make sure it is TURNED OFF, not in Sleep mode, it can wake up while being moved, especially a laptop;
  • Keep your data cables as short as possible;
  • Always shut down your computer correctly – use an uninterrupted power supply if your house is prone to blackouts.

Preventing bad sectors using software

  • Use a quality disk defragmenter program with automated scheduling to help prevent head crashes (head crashes can create hard bad sectors). Disk defragmentation reduces hard drive wear and tear, thus prolonging its lifetime and preventing bad sectors;
  • Run a quality anti-virus and anti-malware software and keep the programs updated.

Monitoring bad sectors

If you use a tool like HD Sentinel, or CrystalDiskInfo, and you notice bad sectors on your drive, keep an eye on it. A few sectors bad is not normally a problem, as I mentioned at the start of the article, up to 5 bad pixels on a new TFT is allowed before it becomes a warranty claim, hard drives are allowed a few bad sectors due to the imperfections of their manufacturing process. They are manufactured with what are known as “reserved sectors”, a spare area of the disk only accessible by the controller board. If a sector is weak, the controller will attempt to move the data to the reserved area, if this is successful it then attempts a quick read/write test on the old sector (takes less than a few milliseconds), if it fails it marks it as bad in the sector map, also stored in the drive reserved area, along with drive firmware, so that it doesn’t attempt to use it again.

If the number of bad sectors starts increasing, or you start to experience other symptoms, such as the drive dropping out completely as if you unplugged it, or any clicking, and data taking longer to read or copy, this could indicate a fault with the read/write heads, or the control circuitry. Stop using it immediately and back up any important data to another drive. If the failing drive is under warranty, print a log off from HD Sentinel and take it along with you to return the drive, as evidence.

S.M.A.R.T Values to look for

When looking at S.M.A.R.T (Smart Monitoring And Reporting Tool) analysis, the two main areas to look out for are:

Reallocated Sector Count

This shows how many of the drive’s Reserved sectors have been used. If too many of these are used it generally indicates a problem with the disk surface.

Current Pending Sector

This shows how many bad sectors are currently pending a rewrite. A hard drive will always try to rewrite the sector, if it fails, the sector is reallocated into the reserved, the drive adds the sector on to the Reallocated Sector Count, and the original sector is then marked as unusable. If the rewrite is successful, the Pending Sector count will drop.

 

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Unless you’ve freshly installed Ubuntu or Linux Mint Ubuntu & Debian Editions, you’ll probably notice that each time you boot up, the GRUB bootloader menu lists a bunch of previous Linux kernels which you can boot into. While this can come in handy for disasters – if you suddenly can’t boot into the new kernel after an upgrade – those previous kernels, images and modules are mostly just wasting disk space.

While you can manually go into Synaptic Package Manager, search for all the bits and pieces of previous kernels, and mark them for removal, here is a much easier method, thanks to Kana, she’s a Linux consultant and teaches me Linux using Mint, OpenSuSE and Debian. In a terminal, simply paste the following command, and it will remove all but the current kernel (if you’ve upgraded your system, or had an update with a new kernel, please reboot your machine before running this). It will also remove old graphics driver modules for old kernels, and modules related to VirtualBox if installed:

dpkg -l ‘linux-*’ | sed ‘/^ii/!d;/'”$(uname -r | sed “s/\(.*\)-\([^0-9]\+\)/\1/”)”‘/d;s/^[^ ]* [^ ]* \([^ ]*\).*/\1/;/[0-9]/!d’ | xargs sudo apt-get -y purge

Yeah, I know, looks like Geek hieroglyphics, doesn’t it? Kana said she studied the docs for Debian Packager and Apt to get all that! You will see some info about what is going on:

The following packages will be REMOVED:
linux-headers-2.6.35-22* linux-headers-2.6.35-22-generic*
linux-headers-2.6.35-23* linux-headers-2.6.35-23-generic*
linux-image-2.6.32-25-generic* linux-image-2.6.35-22-generic*
linux-image-2.6.35-23-generic*
0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 7 to remove and 13 not upgraded.
After this operation, 586MB disk space will be freed.
(Reading database … 261863 files and directories currently installed.)
Removing linux-headers-2.6.35-22-generic …
Removing linux-headers-2.6.35-22 …
Removing linux-headers-2.6.35-23-generic …
Removing linux-headers-2.6.35-23 …
Removing linux-image-2.6.32-25-generic …

It will then generate a new GRUB menu, and when you reboot, you’ll see only the current kernel is listed. Kana uses this all the time, she says she’s never had any trouble with it 🙂 Aren’t geeky girlfriends cool?

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Western Digital make really good hard drives, but where their Elements, Passport and MyBook drives are concerned, they’ve taken a wrong turn. The 2.5″ versions all have proprietary PCB’s on the drives themselves, so there’s no standard micro SATA data and power connectors like you’d expect. The USB connector and LED, plus the interface controller, are on the single board as well! This means you can’t just take the drive out and connect it to another USB to SATA enclosure.

A lot of very modern WD Elements, MyBook and Passport enclosures are now also encrypted, meaning the data can only be accessed when the control board is functioning correctly. In this article I’ll show you how to recover data from a WD Passport (laptop sized drive) enclosure, if the USB connector gets damaged.

1. Disassemble the enclosure, remove the drive, then remove the PCB from the bottom of the drive using a Torx screwdriver.

2. Flip the drive board over, you’ll see the following capacitors. Remove them using a soldering iron or a heatgun, being careful not to overheat or damage anything:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-capacitors

3. Next you need to take a standard SATA connector from another drive, or from a parts supplier (eBay has them in droves, search for COMAX SATA connector). Once you have it, take a look at it, you’ll see long pins and short pins. All the long ones are GROUND pins:

sata-connector-ground-pins

4. From the back side of the PCB (the componentless side which faces away from the drive when fitted), you will see pins E71, E72, E73 and E74, these belong to the SATA data pins. The other four pins marked with a red square belong to ground pins:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-E-pins

5. Now solder everything together, using this pinout:

E71 – Tx+
E72 – Tx-
E73 – Rx-
E74 – Rx+

The SATA standard uses two lines, a positive and negative, for Data TX (Transmit), and two for Data RX (Recieve), each having a separate ground on the ground lines. Use my picture below as a wiring reference:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-finished-wiring

Now all you need to do is use a standard USB cable to power the drive (if your connector is broken you can try soldering the power lines of a USB cable to the port power pins), connect via SATA to your PC, and it should work. NOTE: This WILL NOT work if your drive uses encryption, as that runs through the USB data lines, because we’re bypassing it, it won’t work.

You may get some “USB device not recognized” errors. Try connecting the SATA drive to a SATA hotplug port, connecting the data cable first, then the power, once Windows has started. Hotplug ports are usually purple or orange, it depends on the board manufacturer, Gigabytes are purple.

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As it is when shipped retail, this drive is terrible. The drive constantly tries to park its heads, lagging the system, even during copy and move operations. With it being a top end 7200RPM drive, this is unacceptable, especially if like my Clevo, it is installed in a gaming machine. It is the power saving “features” of the firmware that cause it. The drive also exhibits “beeping” symptoms where the voice coils of the arm recieve a high current to wake it up and seek track, the high current effectively turns the coil into a speaker, and it makes a beeping sound. The drive constantly seems to miss beats because of the parking issue, causing the arm to miss and have to be shocked back into place by the controller.

Using tools like HDDScan to disable the APM (Advanced Power Management) and AAM (Advanced Acoustics Management) features aren’t permanent, once the drives are power cycled the issue starts all over again. The drive refuses any permanent disable ATA control commands.

There is a Dell firmware that will get rid of the issue, and take the firmware up to 05SDM1. My Clevo’s laptop’s drive started out with 2SDM1 firmware. The new FW makes the drive visibly quicker. The auto flasher doesn’t work, instead we need to manually force it, I’ll show you how.

1. Download the Seagate Update Utility ISO image, hosted on TideLog, this very blog, by clicking HERE. Extract the ZIP file, you’ll find an ISO file called Seagate Utility.iso.

2. Burn the extracted ISO to a CD-RW or DVD-RW, and restart your computer. When your computer restarts, enter your BIOS and make sure the computer is set to boot from CD.

3. The updater will start on its own, but it will actually fail even though a green screen is shown, you will need to manually force it. It will dump you back at a command prompt, so type:

FDLH -m HOLLIDAY -f 0005SDM1.LOD -i ST9500420AS -b -v

Essentially this line forces the detection of Seagate ST9500420AS drives, and force flashes it, even if the BIOS doesn’t have the Dell asset tag embedded.

4. This works on any machine, including Dell Studio, Asus, my Clevo M571TU, and the M570. Any machine with a Seagate ST9500420AS drive should work fine. Any drives with “GAS” on the end are the same drive but with G-Shock protection.

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This happened to me recently, while I was updating a few Cydia apps. After respringing, all my app store app icons were missing, but using iFile I could see the apps themselves were still installed to usr/mobile/applications.

No amount of respringing, rebooting or complete powering off brought them back and I couldn’t launch them via Terminal. I even tried using the Cydia app Poof! to turn the icons off, respring, then back on again, but nothing worked. What did work though was reinstalling one of my missing apps after backing it up and deleting it, all of a sudden the icon tiles came back, then after a reboot they had their icon pictures again!

Another weird “feature” of a jailbroken Apple toy!

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We all know that PC World are clueless when it really comes down to computer repairs. Charging £40 just to reinstall a driver, or as in the Sky News investigation, £229 just to reseat a memory stick, which should be a 10 second no charge job. When it comes down to their KnowHow scam, it gets worse. They used to be called TechGuys until they got so much bad publicity they had to rebrand and rename.

Here’s the truth about them. They get their staff from an agency called ADECCO. The people they take on have little or no electronics background, and only have about 6 months training with Adecco themselves before being taken on by PC World into their KnowHow scam, and are allowed to roam free on people’s televisions, washing machines and whatnot, with a multimeter that they don’t even really know how to use.

Their staff will come out, for example to fix a washing machine, and NOT know how to fix it (So they should now be called NOT KNOWHOW!!). I once set a TechGuys engineer up by putting faulty bearings in the tub drum of my washing machine, and calling them out. He went through a ton of basic checks, like checking hoses, the motor, and did a basic PAT continuity check, which failed (I know his test was wrong, because I professionally fix washing machines, and fix my own). After an hour he still couldn’t figure it out, after several calls to head office he decided to poke around a bit, then tell me the control PCB had gone, just to get a problem out in the air so he could have the £60 callout and diagnostic fee.

As soon as I came clean about what I’d done, and showed him my NIC-EIC electrical certificate, he soon got the finger when he still asked for £30 callout. He couldn’t get out the door fast enough he was so embarrassed, so fast in fact he left his multimeter behind. Lo and behold the battery LED was flashing, so his multimeter was giving false readings due to lack of power.

They always say a bad workman blames his tools, but in his case both he and his multimeter were wrong, poorly configured and short of power. Avoid the whole of DSG (Dixons Stores Group, including Currys, PC World and Dixons, plus PixMania) like the plague. Their latest KnowHow ads saying they’ll show you how all these new HD 3D TV’s work is just a cover, they don’t even know what 3D or HD even are!! They charge £100 to fit a flatscreen TV bracket, the cost DOESN’T even INCLUDE the bracket! In Kitamura Computers we fit and supply a HIGH QUALITY bracket for as little as £50!!

In my research of Adecco and KnowHow staff, I found out that everything KnowHow do revolves around output quantity, and nothing else, which really I already guessed. Things that are said to the general public might appear this is not so but don’t be fooled. Just go on the web and see their past history. Adecco staff I contacted on the web (remaining anonymous) constantly feared for their jobs if they didn’t meet these quantity targets, and they felt like Big Brother was watching their every move.

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The Sprinter contains a Sentry Key Immobilizer System (SKIS) which has three main components:

1. A transponder circuit in each key fob, with lock/unlock buttons and integral battery.

2. A transponder ring antenna.

3. A Sentry Key Remote Entry Module (SKREEM) which is wired to the van’s high speed CAN (Controller Area Network) where it can talk to the Engine Electronic Control Unit (EECU or ECU).

The system communicates with the Sentry Key Remote Entry Module (SKREEM), using the transponder chip located within the Remote Keyless Entry (RKE) fob. Ignition keys are supplied with the van when it is shipped from the factory. The SKREEM module is located inside the instrument cluster housing, just under the cluster housing cover, at the back of the cluster unit itself.

The transponder ring is plugged into the SKREEM module, where its wire runs from the instrument cluster up to where the ring itself is slotted over the ignition barrel. It is a wireless radio antenna.

Each Sentry Key has a unique transponder identifcation code permanently programmed into it by the manufacturer. Likewise, the Sentry Key Remote Entry Module (SKREEM) has a unique “Secret Key” code programmed into it from the factory too. When a Sentry Key is programmed into the memory of the SKREEM, the SKREEM stores the
transponder identification code from the Sentry Key, and the Sentry Key learns the Secret Key code from the SKREEM. Once the Sentry Key learns the Secret Key code of the SKREEM, it is also permanently programmed into the transponder’s memory.

The Sentry Key’s transponder is within the range of the SKREEM’s transponder ring when it is inserted into the ignition lock cylinder. When the ignition switch is turned to the ON position, the SKREEM communicates with the Sentry Key via a radio frequency (RF) signal. The SKREEM determines if a valid key is present based on the information it receives from the Sentry Key. If a valid key is detected, a message is sent to the Engine Control Unit (ECU) via the Controller Area Network (CAN) data bus and the vehicle is allowed to start or continue running. If an invalid key is received by the ECU or no status at all is communicated, the engine will stall after two (2) seconds of running because the ECU cuts power to the glow plugs and fuel injectors. The indicator light on the key fob will be flashing at this point.

The Sentry Key’s transponder can not be repaired. If it is faulty or damaged, it must be replaced. Common communication problems include:
a. Two transponder keys too close together.
b. Speed Pass too close to transponder key.
c. Solid indicator in the instrument cluster indicating there is a system failure.
d. Loss of ECM communication on the CAN bus, either due to interference or faulty control unit.
e. Failed transponder ring circuit.

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If, like me you’ve changed your internet facing server’s Remote Desktop port to stop Haxors hammering your standard 3389 port, you’ll need to specify it from any client you connect to it from. Microsoft don’t make it obvious on their own client, but many 3rd party ones will have a Port box. The Mocha RDP client I use on my iPhone has such a box.

To do it in Microsoft’s own client, you need to specify your domain or IP as usual, then add a semicolon, then the port number, for example mydomain.com:1234. This works in both Windows XP, Vista and 7. There was no option in the connection options anywhere, so I started experimenting. A lot of services on my company server require specific semicolon and port dances after the URL, so it was the first thing I tried.

Microsoft, PLEASE put a Port box in the per-connection options. It would be easier for multiple connections and saved RDP files. Put a little text reminder in the connection box UI too 😉 It’s fine for home users the way it is default, but corporate users like me who need to change ports to stop server port attacks, and who has several servers all listening on different ports, we need an obvious easy way to set it 🙂

NOTE: Remote Desktop for Mac DOES NOT support custom ports, thanks to my lil lady Kana for that tidbit 😉

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Following the recent High Court ruling that has forced ISP’s such as Sky, 02 and others to block the Pirate Bay, you’ll need another way round this block if like me, Pirate Bay is your favourite site. Many Sky users using Firefox are simply greeted with a “thepiratebay.se is taking too long to respond” browser error message, making it look like a site issue rather than outright block.

02 and other ISP’s using the same network have been a little nicer, with a page saying, “We are complying with a court order and this site has been blocked”. For someone as techie as me, this is like Hulk breaking a fingernail, a minor niggle. If you’re a non techie user, simply point your browser to www.hidemyass.com, and enter “thepiratebay.se” into the top search bar, and click the big Hide My Ass! button. The nice layout of The Pirate Bay won’t work, mnay of the stylesheet elements don’t load but the main site is there, continue as normal 😉 It actually loads quicker this way!

Proxies are always there for you 😉 HideMyAss is the best one I’ve found so far, the quickest and easiest!

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Many people confuse the two, or think they’re the same. They’re not. I’m going to demystify the myth, so to speak!

Integrated Graphics

Integrated graphics are a graphics system that is integrated into the Southbridge chipset of a system, like S3 Mirage and Intel GMA, so the chip controls both graphics and other subsystems. They do not have their own dedicated memory, instead they use system memory, which in my opinion is a good thing, because you won’t get expensive to repair soldered faulty graphics RAM. If the RAM does go bad, simply replace the module(s). The bad part is that the system RAM is often a lot slower than dedicated GDDR2/3/4 chips onboard, using system memory can also cause bottlenecks as the graphics memory bus is slowed down to the system memory bus speed.

Integrated chips (Intel’s are known as ICH (Integrated CHipset) or IGH (Integrated Graphics Hub), are not intended for gaming, but mainly light work. They can handle video (Intel’s GMA HD range can handle HD video) and possibly older games, like Doom 1 & 2, but nothing heavy.

Discreet Graphics

Discreet graphics are a dedicated graphics chip soldered to the motherboard, like the nVidia GeForce G M chips. They have their own dedicated GDDR memory soldered to the board, running on its own super fast memory bus, so it is not limited to the slower system memory bus speed. Discreet graphics are usually always much much faster than integrated graphics, and are much better for gaming. They can be soldered to the main motherboard along with voltage regulators and video RAM, or they can be on a separate card.

Then of course after Integrated and Discreet systems you have full blown laptop PCI-E cards, which can either be full desktop class cards, or mobile versions. Some ultra high end Clevo Core i7 laptops even have both Discreet/Integrated and a PCI-E card, allowing you to switch between the two for different applications!

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She’s due an upgrade in the graphics department, I’ve had the old Radeon HD4650 installed for 2 and a half years now, it still runs GTA and all my kind of games, but with detail turned down.

So, given that she’s been upgraded with a Core 2 Quad processor, I thought it good that she be equipped with a graphics card to take advantage of the better processor. I’ve found the MSI Radeon HD6870 HAWK 1GB to be perfect!

This awesome card’s specs are:

Cores: 1120
Core Clock: 930 MHz
Shader Clock:
Memory: 1GB
Memory Bit Rate: 256 Bit
Memory Type: GDDR5
Memory Clock: 4200 MHz

Lucy’s current 4650 only runs at 400MHz stock, and I’ve managed to get nearly 600MHz out of it from overclocking, so this new card will be awesome! The HAWK is factory overclocked to 930MHz from the Radeon 68xx reference clock of 900, some people have managed to get 1.17GHz out of it!! The newer HD6900 cards only run at 830MHz, and they’re £549!! They have faster memory clocks, and a lot more memory, but I’d rather have a higher core clock to start as the main core is what does all the work, and the faster it runs, the faster stuff gets done!

This card even has a set of voltage test points for electrical engineer guys like me who like to monitor voltages while the card is running, for overclock stability monitoring, stuff like that. It also has a switch to switch between Silent and Performance mode, which in turn reduces core clock from 900MHz to 930MHz, and fan speeds from Low to High respectively, and even on High it is quiet. The card has two BIOS’es , one for each mode, meaning you can overclock the Performance BIOS and still have the Silent mode stock for when you’re not gaming, which was the seller for me!

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I had a feeling it wouldn’t last! Time to hire the rework station again! I think you can guess what I’m talking about….. yup, my Uniwill has given up the ghost, last night while playing ToCA Race Driver 3 after detailing my fix here!!

The LCD screen hasn’t been coming on at all lately, and last night while ToCA was running it just froze, and then a BSOD:

“Attempt to recover display driver timeout period exceeded”

I switched off, and then started getting artifacting in the BIOS. Windows won’t go past the Starting Windows screen, so the solder has fractured again. I only reflowed it when I last did it, so now it’s time for a full re-ball.

Bugger, bugger, bugger! Back to using my 7 year old Advent 7036 Pentium 4 snail!! It goes to prove that the RoHS is to blame. My Advent 7036 has nVidia GeForce Go 5300 graphics, manufactured 2003, and it has lead solder in the BGA grids and all the boards, and it is still as strong electrically as the day it was bought. RoHS kicked in in 2006, and since then I’ve had no end of failed solder BGA jobs come in for re-ball/re-flow.

No coincidence. Not nVidia, guys, the INDUSTRY. Lead-free solder is god damn awful. And so is darn RoHS. Lead in PCB’s never killed ANYONE. I’m in contact with them all the time, and was for years before lead free crap came in, and I’m still fighting fit, even after breathing lead smoke from soldering irons.

This Advent may be single core, and ancient compared to what I’m used to in my job and today’s IT standards, but she sure is reliable, even having her GPU powered by nVidia.

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Uniwill don’t provide BIOS’es on their website, and neither do Novatech. My P55IM is officially a Novatech Alpha R Pro, and you’ll remember from my last experience with Novatech trying to get a BIOS for my Novatech branded Clevo M670 that it was a nightmare, and also that Clevo do not provide BIOS files, they instead referred me to Novatech.

Well, Uniwill build the vast majority of Fujitsu Siemens laptops (now just Fujitsu since Siemens sold their stake back to Fujitsu), and that includes the P55IM, which is badged as the Amilo Xi2428, and the Novatech Alpha R Pro. The best bit of it is that Uniwill nor Novatech have BIOS updates, but Fujitsu do, and regularly. There’s been a few releases for the Xi 2428 P55IM, and they can be flashed on to all versions of the machine, including the P55IM-1, and P55IM-5.

To do it, download the update from FSC by looking for the Xi 2428, boot from a Hiren’s Boot CD into the Mini Windows XP environment, and run the EXE from there. I couldn’t get it to run under Win 7 or Vista, nor could I on my old Amilo Li 1818. You’ll then have a Fujitsu Siemens Amilo BIOS boot screen, and the machine referred to as an Xi 2428 in the BIOS and DXDiag!

Your drivers will re-install as the IRQ maps are changed by the update, so don’t panic when your system looks weird on reboot!

Further to that I’ve edited the BIOS file using Kassie’s Phoenix BIOS Editor, and have replaced the Manufacturer and Model string to a Kitamura one, and put our splash screen on it! Don’t ask me how, I’m experienced at it, and it isn’t easy doing a BIOS chip desolder and Willem chip wipe and program if it goes wrong, thankfully I know how, and have the facilities.

NOTE: Don’t download the 1.16C version. FSC set the CPU fan on permanent full to try to counter the nVidia GPU problems. It doesn’t make a difference, and is annoying. Download the 1.14C instead.

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