Death to the Nforce. Long live the X38
If you read my last posting you’d see that I recently overhauled my machine. The motherboard I chose was an Abit IN9 32X-MAX Wi-Fi which was my first Nforce board and as it turns out; will probably be my last. I’ve had an endless stream of issues since it was installed, the majority of them to do with it having a highly flaky bios and the rest being how picky it is with regards to memory. The latest incident saw the bios getting totally corrupted which resulted in a 6+ hour mission to repair it after which I discovered that the 3rd and 4th memory slots had been killed. The system refused to boot with any memory in them. Having reached the end of my rope I decided to return the board and try something else. The rest of this post will show you how I transferred my current Vista 64 install to the new motherboard without having to fresh install as well as explain how I decided on my new board which was far from an easy feat.
I read a whole lot of reviews which left me with 4 possible replacements.
- Asus Maximus Formula X38
- Asus Striker II Nforce 780i
- eVGA 780i
- XFX 780i
I really wanted the Striker II since the first batch of previews I read said it would be wicked. I liked the eVGA one for a few small reasons but a big reason being that everyone raved about how cool eVGA tech support was compared to other companies. The XFX board peeked my interest because I’ve used a few XFX graphics cards and they have been solid, plus the few times I contacted them I received prompt and to the point replies. The Maximus Formula hit my radar because it had been used in several of the other previews as a comparison board.
I scrubbed the XFX board from the list since it was identical to the eVGA board and I figured I’d rather get a motherboard from an established motherboard manufacturer.
I scrubbed the eVGA board since everywhere just had it listed as “Awaiting ETA from manufacturer”.
I scrubbed the Striker II at the very last minute as I stumbled across a couple of actual reviews (note the first lot I read were Previews) which shone a very negative light on it. It sucked in all the benchmarks whilst one of the comparison boards came out on top almost every time.
That comparison board yet again being the Asus Maximus Formula. All the factors were right for this one; it was in stock at loads of places, it was cheaper than the rest, it seemed to have a good bios/driver/software update history, it came out really well in most of the reviews and it sounded like a good stable board. The only thing that put me off it was that since it uses an Intel chipset there is little to no hope of it supporting SLI which is one of the upgrade routes I wanted to look into later on. For now though having a stable system is more important and my single XFX 8800GT Alpha Dog XXX is kicking ass in all my games.
The next day the board arrived. I backed up all my important files to the server.
- In Windows Live Mail this meant doing File->Export for both email accounts and messages. The final step being to open the contacts window, select all contacts and then choosing File->Export as vCards.
- In Miranda IM this meant copying the C:\Users\YOUR USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Miranda directory which contains the Miranda DB amongst other things.
- Copied the IE Favorites directory and the saved version of my Aero theme.
- In FileZilla I exported all my saved FTP details.
- In Google Earth I right clicked the My Places root and chose to save it to disk.
That was it, everything else could go if the need to fresh install arose. The next step was to download all the drivers I’d need for the new board. This just meant heading over to the Asus support site and navigating to the specific download section for my board. After unzipping all the files I stored them on both my second hard disk as well to a CD.
The final step in the transfer process was to uninstall ALL Nvidia drivers. This was done by going to Control Panel->Programs and Features and then choosing to uninstall Nvidia software. One of the first few screens asks if which drivers to uninstall, I just picked them all including the graphics driver. Instead of restarting afterwards I went to Device Manager and chose to show hidden devices. Then I went through each branch and uninstalled anything bearing the Nvidia brand. Once all that was clear I shut down.
A bit of elbow grease and swearing later I had the Abit board out and the Asus board in. After the memory issues with my last board I thought I’d play it safe and only put two sticks in for the initial setup phase, slots 1 & 2. I powered it up and went straight into the bios. On the last or second to last page there was an option for EZ bios. I went there which let me navigate to my CD. It ignored NTFS drives so it only showed C: which it had mapped to the CD drive. I picked the bios file and tapped ok. A minute or two later I found myself running the latest bios 0907. The next restart saw me manually setting the memory speed and timings to 800MHz 4-4-3-15-2T, I disabled a few motherboard devices I wouldn’t use like eSata and then went on to disable all fan monitoring since I use an Asaka fan controller.
Another restart saw it go straight into Windows. After login it prompted for all my drivers which I happily installed. Thinking I was being clever I had download the latest Intel INF installer from the Intel site. It had version 220.127.116.119 and a date of July 2007. Things seemed ok but when I sent the system to sleep and then resumed it kept stalling. After a few minutes the second hard drive disappeared. It was ok after a restart but kept doing it after resuming from sleep. I downloaded the older driver, which is the latest listed on the Asus page with a version number of 18.104.22.1683. I then had to right click each device in Device Manager and manually update the driver to the older version. I did as many as I could find and then restarted. Hey presto, stable system. Sinky reckons that the reason there isn’t a general X38 INF installer on the Intel site is because there must be minor differences in the manufacturers implementations.
That’s pretty much it. The system is working fine. The best part is that I put the last two sticks of RAM back in so I’m now at 8GB and it still works at the memory specified speed and timings 8GB at 800MHz with a 4-4-3-15-2T timing. Never got that to work on my old 680i motherboard. I have Aero enabled, most default services running, all the latest Windows Updates and Advanced Performance set to Quality. I get a Windows Experience Index of 5.6, with everything except memory getting 5.9, on the last setup memory only got 5.4. In 3D Mark 06 I get 12010 which is only 500 points less than when I overclocked the 680i system. Without overclocking the old system and running it pretty much as this one is I only got about 10,000. I’m a very happy camper 😃
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