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Monday, October 19, 2009

Dual Boot Windows 7 with XP/Vista in three easy steps

[Updated] Windows 7 has proved to be quite the drastic improvement over Vista, enough that it even has XP stragglers crawling out of the woodwork to check it out. Your chance to test drive the release candidate is now running thin, in fact, if you haven’t tried the new OS until now you are better off postponing your plans for a week and installing the real thing. The final version of Windows 7 has already been sent to partners and is scheduled to debut publicly later this week on October 22.

Even if have pre-ordered Microsoft’s latest OS, installing it on top of your existing copy of Windows may feel a bit premature if you haven't been running the beta or RC as your main installation. Thankfully, setting up a dual boot configuration is both easy and practical. If you’re looking for a quick and dirty, yet thorough how-to on getting Windows 7 to run alongside your installation of XP or Vista, read on.

Read the complete how-to guide.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

P55 Extreme Overclockers: Check your sockets!

We start with a picture.

The picture above is after our Core i7 870 (LGA-1156) processor was overclocked up to 5.19GHz using our cascade with a -102° Celsius evaporator head temperature under full-load. Processor VCC power draw at these frequencies is around 160W (this is possible only due to subzero cooling), as measured with a clamp meter installed at the 12V EPS power lead. Study the pictures closely and you should notice something peculiar. Keep in mind it comes from a CPU installed in the same type of socket from a particular manufacturer.

What happens after several extreme benchmark runs...

If you noticed something weird in the pictures then you understand the title of our article. We have what seems to be a potentially serious issue with proper socket loading on several P55-based motherboards when overclocking to the limit. We are of course not the only ones experiencing the problem as several of our overclocking peers have run into the same problem.

Normally we do not worry too much about mishaps during extreme overclocking testing as they are typically caused by factors outside of the supplier’s control. The overriding concern is that we have damaged every motherboard in our possession for the P55 overclocking (extreme) shootout as well as two very expensive i7/870 processors. These problems are the cause of a single component and are repeatable. As such, we thought we would provide details on current problems and will provide an update once all of the motherboard manufacturers affected have had a chance to properly respond.

We draw your attention to the fact that the processor shown in this pictures exhibits signs of insufficient pin-to-pad contact (little to no contact) in what is a rather reproducible pattern with Foxconn manufactured 1156 sockets. As soon as an end-user mounts a CPU in a socket and latches the clamp mechanism, each pin should leave a notable mark on the associated pad.

We've marked locations where this does not seem to have happened, showing what appears to be a significant reduction in the number of VCC/VSS pins for proper power delivery, and certainly not at the right load line resistance. Damage resulting from highly overclocked use in these types of situations is not solely limited to the processor; let’s take a look at what happened to some of the motherboards in which these CPU were seated.

The random level of pin/pad contact in the VCC/VSS area is an accident waiting to happen when the processor begins to draw current, especially when highly overclocked.

When Intel publishes socket specifications and design tolerances, it's up to component manufacturers to strictly adhere to them when designing, manufacturing, testing and ultimately selling their "compliant" components. Of course, that's not to say Intel could not have goofed when releasing their specification, leaving out a crucial tolerance or such. It could happen, but not likely. For the time being, let's assume that's not the case; seeing as how processors installed in sockets built by other companies have exhibited no such issue in testing to date.

At first glance, one might be inclined to think LGA-1156 based processors are intolerant of high-end overclocking, almost as if by design. This is correct to some extent; a quick glance at Intel’s white papers for socket 1156 CPU’s reveals that there are around 175 pads for VCC compared to over 250 for socket 1366 CPU’s. This means socket 1156 has around 66% of the current capacity of socket 1366, the caveat being that when overclocked, processors from both platforms draw similar levels of current.

When overclocked above 4GHz, processors from both platforms will draw around 15-16 amps via the EPS 12V rail to VCC, VTT and some of the other sub –system power rails under full 8 thread load from the Intel burn test (Linx). Assuming 85% PWM efficiency, we’re looking at power draw in the region of 130-140w to VCC on both platforms. The facts point toward tighter current handling tolerances for socket 1156 when compared to socket 1366, especially when it comes to non-connection of VCC/VSS power delivery pins.

Fortunately, we think we've been able to isolate pin to pad contact issues to one particular brand of parts. Physical inspection and end-user reports all but confirm the issues only affects sockets manufactured by Foxconn at this time. The only known alternative sockets in the wild are made by LOTES or Tyco AMP. We happen to have a couple of boards from EVGA using the LOTES/Tyco AMP sockets and MSI/DFI using the LOTES socket design, and thus far those boards have been issue free given highly similar operating conditions. In fact, we’ve managed to push our LGA-1156 processors further in heavy load tests on boards made using LOTES/Tyco AMP sockets than those made with sockets from Foxconn; something we’re not putting down solely to coincidence.

So far, EVGA is the only company we know that uses sockets exclusively from LOTES on their top-tier P55 boards - for example, the EVGA P55 Classified 200, model E659. This by the way may be the onus behind the decision to market the board’s “300% More Gold Content” socket statement as a purchasing option point. If you find yourself shopping for an EVGA P55 FTW, model E657, you've got a 50/50 chance of buying one with a Tyco AMP socket design (using a LOTES backplate), as opposed to one made solely with Foxconn's, the same goes for MSI and DFI who have batches of boards in the retail channel using LOTES sockets (although we're not entirely sure on socket specifics at this point). DFI told us earlier they have dropped usage of the Foxconn sockets completely until further notice. We hear the LOTES and Tyco AMP sockets are in short supply, which is probably why Foxconn's been able to fill the void in the market with what we believe to be a lower quality alternative for the extreme overclocker.

We took one of our damaged CPU’s and inserted it into one of the EVGA (LOTES/Tyco AMP) boards and took a few pics to show contact scoring and a side by side compare to the original Foxconn socket indents.

Foxconn 1156 Socket Installation

Tyco AMP / LOTES 1156 Socket Installation

Note how from a variety of angles certain pads show no evidence of contact from a Foxconn pin at all. Both the Tyco AMP and LOTES sockets have a larger pin/pad contact surface area leaving a slight scuff mark in the central area of each pad. In light of this, what we will say is that if you’re thinking of doingextreme overclocking on a board built using Foxconn's socket 1156, think again. Or, at least check your CPU for evidence of proper pin-to-pad contact.

We have not had any problems with air or water cooling overclocking up to 4.3GHz, although we do have a i5/750 that has developed a few dark pads after a thousand hours or so of constant overclocking. However, none of the boards have developed pin problems so we feel very safe in saying that any problems will probably occur only in extreme overclocking scenarios.

We also realize that partial responsibility for some of the less than acceptable CPU installations may be in fact due user installation errors. However, if users are screwing this up by doing nothing different than what they've always done when it comes to handling and installing LGA-type processors, then it's hard for us to find fault with the installer. Be aware of this situation and study the pin imprint on the CPU pads and make sure you have good contact on the VCC/VSS power delivery pads before pushing the system too hard.


Intel Atom N450 to launch on January 3?

According to Fudzilla, Intel plans to launch the first chip(s) in its upcoming Pine Trail lineupon January 3 of next year. The 1.66GHz Atom N450 processor will incorporate memory and graphics functions on a single chip, and will offer many benefits. In addition to the obvious performance boost, Intel's upcoming platform consumes less power and is more compact -- all major bonuses for netbooks and related systems.

Intel is also supposedly aiming to launch a faster Atom chip come March, which will be the 1.86GHz N470. It is reported that the Atom N450 will be priced at $64, or $20 more than the currently available 1.6GHz N270, while the N470 will cost $75 (note again, the memory and graphics controllers will be on-die -- so the cost difference is probably negligible).

By Matthew DeCarlo,

Acer brings the AspireRevo nettop to the US

Acer has announced that it is now shipping the pint-sized AspireRevo nettop PC to US customers. According to the company, its AspireRevo R3610-U9012 is not only extremely compact, but energy-efficient and packs enough power to "serve as an entertainment center" or even "casual gaming."

The book-sized AspireRevo is armed with a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom 330 processor, Nvidia's Ion chipset, 2GB DDR2 RAM, 160GB HDD, 802.11b/g/n support, Gigabit Ethernet, six USB 2.0 ports (two in front, four in back), eSATA, HDMI and VGA ports, a multi-in-one card reader, USB stereo speakers, a wireless keyboard and mouse, and Windows 7 Home Premium.

Interestingly, there's also a VESA attachment so you can mount the nettop to the back of your display -- quite handy if you're aiming for a sleek setup. You can purchase the AspireRevo R3610-U9012 now for about $330, and it will launch along with Windows 7 on October 22.

By Matthew DeCarlo,

Friday, October 16, 2009

Microsoft's antivirus detects 4 million infections in first week

Microsoft has released some first-week usage statistics of its new antivirus application, Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). Redmond made the program available to users in 19 countries on September 29, and it accumulated 1.5 million downloads in the first seven days -- though, it's unknown how many individual systems are actually running the product. That said, Microsoft does know how many computers are infected.

The software giant says that during the first week in circulation, MSE detected malicious software on precisely 535,752 machines -- and the actual malware count is eight times more than that. Microsoft says early adopters of Windows 7 seem to be the most prominent users of MSE, which seems logical enough, and around one third of those systems are running a 64-bit version of Windows 7.

The general consensus seems to be that MSE is a relatively solid product, and with some 4 million malware detections in its first week, Microsoft's antivirus is at the very least helping some users to keep clean.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Clean your computer

I have a dirty secret. I've never cleaned my computer. Sure, I've dusted my monitor, but I haven't taken off the cover or tried to reach the crumbs lurking inside my keyboard.

clean your computer

"Your computer could fry if you don't keep it clean," says Jonathon Millman, chief technology officer for Hooplah Interactive.

Dust clogs the vents behind your computer, which causes your CPU to heat up—and heat is the biggest cause of component failure in computers. Regular cleaning could save you costly maintenance fees down the road.

Keep your computer in tip-top shape by following Millman's guide to a spotless computer system.


You'll need:

  • screwdriver

  • can of compressed air (available from computer dealers or office-supply stores)

  • cotton swabs (do not use a cotton ball)

  • rubbing alcohol

  • paper towels or anti-static cloths

  • water

Always turn your computer off before you begin and unplug all the cords.

Step 1: Inside the case

Using a screwdriver, remove the side of the case that's opposite your motherboard. Touch as little as possible inside the computer, keeping fingers away from cards and cords.

Blow air around all of the components and along the bottom of the case, keeping the nozzle four inches away from the machine. Blow air into the power supply box and into the fan (from the back of the case). Lastly, blow air into the floppy disk and CD drives. Wipe the inside of the cover with a lightly moistened cloth before replacing it.

Millman recommends doing this every three months if your case sits on the floor, if you have pets that shed, or if you smoke. Otherwise, every six to eight months is fine.

Step 2: Outside the case

Run a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol around all of the openings on the back of your case. Give them one swipe with the damp end of the swab and one swipe with the dry end. Do this as often as you clean the inside of your computer.

Step 3: Keyboard

Turn the keyboard upside down and gently shake it. Most of the crumbs and dust will fall out. Take a can of compressed air and blow into and around the keys. Next, take a cotton swab and dip it in rubbing alcohol. It should be damp, but not wet. Run the cotton swab around the outside of the keys. Rub the tops of the keys. If you have a laptop, follow the same procedure but take extra care with your machine. Do this monthly.

Spills — If you have kids, you're worried about spills. If it happens, disconnect the keyboard immediately and flip it over. Blot the top with a paper towel, blow compressed air between the keys and leave it to air dry overnight. For laptops, liquid can easily penetrate the hard drive so turn the computer over immediately and leave it in that position until it dries.

Step 4: Mouse

Rub the top and bottom of your mouse with a paper towel dipped in rubbing alcohol. Open the back and remove the ball. Wash the ball with water and let it air dry. To clean inside the mouse, dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and rub all of the components. Scrape hard-to-remove grime with your fingernail. Finally, blow air into the opening. Replace the ball and the cover. Do this monthly.

Step 5: Monitor

Moisten a paper towel or a soft, lint-free cloth with water. (You can also buy monitor cleaning products at computer-supply stores.) Don't spray liquid directly onto the screen—spray the cloth instead. Wipe the screen gently to remove dust and fingerprints. Never touch the back of the monitor.

For laptop screens, Millman suggests buying a special cleaning solution available at computer stores. Do this weekly.

Finally, make sure that everything is dry before you plug your computer back in.

Article written by Alyson Munroe and adapted from an original piece from Microsoft Home Magazine.

AMD OpenCL drivers reveal new Radeon HD 5900 series?

As you've undoubtedly heard, AMD recently launched its Radeon HD 5000 GPUs -- all of which have been 5700 or 5800 series cards. Yesterday, the company released a new Open CL-compliant driver for present Radeon HD 4000 and 5000 video cards that Fudzilla says reveals an undisclosed Radeon HD 5000 offering.

The Tech Report looked at the driver's INF files, and sure enough, in addition to the three Radeon HD 5700 and two 5800 listings are two 5900 entries. The site suggests that the three 5700 entries account for the 5770, as well as 512MB and 1GB versions of the 5750, while the two 5800 listings are almost surely the 5850 and 5870 cards.

It seems probable that AMD may be preparing a temporary counter to Nvidia's Fermi-based GPUs, but what exactly does the company have in store for the Radeon HD 5900 series?