UPDATE II: Today’s date is April 7, 2012. About a week ago, the graphics card fan on my computer started making these eeerie WOOOooooooOOOOooooo noises, like a cartoon ghost. And then a few days ago, it just stopped running; the fan was stuck and my computer would run for a few minutes before the screen would go black.
So, farewell good and faithful friend. Now I need to figure out what to do next.
My husband David removed the card and reconnected the inboard graphic card back into play. I can do everything I need to do with the exception of Second Life or my little experimental Open Sim world – I can limp inworld to a meeting or to listen to music, but that’s about it. Building or terraforming are out (it was all the terraforming I was doing in my private grid that was probably the last straw).
The solution at this point is either to buy a whole new computer (which is a pain, as I have all these pictures sorted into folders that I use for the church website) or to swap it all into a bigger case with a better power supply.
The latter option looks like the way forward; a new case is about 40.00 and a power supply of at least 500 watts will set me back about 60.00.
It’s a pain, but the upside is if we can get all the computer’s guts swapped over, there will be plenty of room for a truly capable, normal size graphics card – probably an nVidia 550, 560, or similar. I’m kind of waiting for prices to drop as the new 600-series cards were just released last week.
Carry on reading, if you wish to see how I did get the Galaxy GeForce 9600 LP to fit. There are now other low profile, low power options, but this one worked great for far longer than I expected.
As you might have guessed, I was shopping for a video card. Mission accomplished (just barely).
UPDATE: Okay, yes, I just spent the last 10 days since buying the brand new computer trying to figure out a way to upgrade it for better performance in Second Life, which is ironic considering that I’ve never bothered to learn how to build stuff or make my own virtual clothing. After nearly 2 years, I still consider myself a “casual user,” as for me it’s an entertainment platform, not a creative outlet.
But still, after buying the Gateway SX2800-01 and reading or re-reading dozens of review sites I dubbed “Chipheads” on my del.icio.us bookmarks page, I was chagrined to realize that I’d messed up on the one feature that my new computer had to have – a reasonably powerful nVidia graphics card. The onboard video card that came with the Gateway could just barely handle 3D graphics, but it wasn’t very pretty when I went inworld. I could hear music and chat just fine, and I could move okay (virtual dancing is surprisingly fun in SL) but that was about it. Visual effects and detail were distinctly lacking.
That’s when I ran across all the enthusiastic reviews online that said what a great computer I’d bought for the money (preen, preen) EXCEPT for the disappointing performance of the onboard graphics card (groan, groan). It handles two-dimensional tasks just fine and dandy, the computer itself has a small footprint and didn’t come with a lot of unnecessary peripherals (no monitor, which was fine as I had a decent flatscreen anyway), and I even liked the keyboard, which allowed me to use the slide-under keyboard tray on my desk. But the one thing I considered an essential feature was disappointing, due to my own failure to do my research and also due to my stupidity in being swayed by Intel’s name-brand recognition. We we were actually considering a different computer until my last-moment bout of logo worship.
But that graphics card (which is an Intel, natch) bugged me, and all the reviews I read at first didn’t point me at a solution. Finally, I ran across several reviews that reported that without modifications, about the only graphics card the Gateway could accept would have to be a Galaxy 9600 GT Low Power/Low Profile, which seemed to be only available at Best Buy. There is a less expensive “Low Profile” version with a similar name that’s on special all over the place online, but for my computer, it really needed to be the Low Power/Low Profile card (part number 96GFF6HVDCXX). Fortunately, the box says right on the front “Low Power Consumption/Low Profile.” I was almost suckered by the wrong version with a rebate online, but fortunately this one was the one that Best Buy down the street from us had in stock.
To really see what it looks like, check ExPreview or HardOCP, both of which helped me narrow it down to this card. These guys are really, really into “eye candy” and take pictures of everything in the box, which is helpful when trying to decide if something is going to work or not. This reviewer helpfully discussed the problem of finding a card to fit in small form-factor cases like mine, for example. Frustratingly for me, since my machine has power constraints (it has a 220w power supply) NOBODY seemed to be testing this low-power card on actual low-power systems! They’d post the specs of their testing machines, which sounded like utter BEASTS, and then talk about how they managed to “overclock” the card (600 watts of power? 770 watts? That’s helpful).
So then I went looking for forum postings that specifically mentioned my computer by model number, to see if they managed to install a better graphics card – which turned out usually to be the one I ended up with.
I eventually found several forum posts that mentioned that a Galaxy GeForce 9600 GT LP LP was successfully installed in a Gateway SX2800-01, but only one guy mentioned how tight the fit was and that some of the cables had to be twitched out of the way at the far end, and also that the height clearance doesn’t look like it’ll fit underneath some power connectors and things that stick out. Trust me, they do – take a look at the picture. And then I’ll explain how I needed David’s help to get it installed.
See that copper-colored line right up against the top of the case in the very first picture? That’s attached to the bottom of the card. The whole card runs pretty hot even though it has its own fan, and there’s not much air circulation above it. Also, your main hard drive will run hot while playing graphics-intensive games, too, so beware of excessive run times and heat issues. But this gadget will run, although you may want to think about improving air circulation inside the case, or even drilling extra ventilation holes like one guy did.
All the instructions I found for upgrading online (Gateway didn’t bother to document much, just providing a “get started” sheet and a generic online pdf) indicated that the first step after removing the side panel is to unscrew the rear bracket cover. Problem was, the rear bracket cover wasn’t held in place with a screw – it’s apparently meant to be knocked out. Here, I’ll show you what the back of my computer looks like.
(Windows Vista has a REALLY SLICK little “Image Snipping Tool)
Item 1: Add-in graphics card.
It is NOT helpful to show what it looks like AFTER the freaking card has already been installed, Gateway. On a pristine machine, that top bracket port is covered by a little black piece of metal that’s held in place by a tiny little nib, but it’s been cut out all around the rest of the edge. This is the “knockout” that I was so fearful of breaking. I was trying to pry it out from the side, but the easiest way was to press on it lengthwise, and it folded inward and upward and snapped off. Actually, when my husband David popped it open, he couldn’t find it and we spent several anxious moments searching the floor around my desk and inside the case, because a stray piece of metal in a computer is NOT GOOD. But he eventually realized that it was just folded up inside, held in place by just a thread, as it were. That was the one thing that prevented me from making a real start on installing the card by myself, before David got home from his workout yesterday. Otherwise, I’d sourced and bought it my li’l old self.
Thanks to the folks at TechSpport Forum, here are a couple of good images showing where the card has to go:
Here’s what it looks like before you jam the card into place – note cabling above the optical drive (the square metal box on the left) and the power connectors and other dinguses in the upper right hand corner.
I pretty much followed C/Net’s general instructions for installing the card, along with nVidia’s own instructions… or started to until I hit the snag with the knockout I was too chicken to actually knock out. Fortunately, David got home and provided some muscle to wrestle the card into place.
On the far right, you can see the pristine “knockout” where the bracket will go, and in line with it toward the left, you can see a couple of stickers with barcodes, and just below them, the PCI-e x16 power slot into which the card will be plugged.
The hardest part, actually, is getting the SATA cable (flat black cable that goes up and around the corner of the drive) and the round grey cables out of the way and easing the far end of the graphics card in place. It draws power from the slot, and there are no extra power connections to be made (remember, the other model that is only Low Profile WILL have an additional power connector that plugs into the motherboard). Even though the box says that it requires a 300w power supply, and the Gateway only has a 220w PSU, the card seems to run fine, because it actually draws a pretty small amount of power, and the Gateway is also efficient and draws a lot less power than its maximum rating.
Once it’s all in place and buttoned up, plug everything in, cross your fingers, and power up. Yesterday, the computer detected an onboard nVidia driver, and it started right up without even using the enclosed installation CD. But you should still install the most current driver from the Galaxy website – although I was quite happy with the way things looked when I first logged in to Second Life, there was a subtle improvement in quality after I installed the latest drivers. The CD only had a 32-bit version, anyway, and I needed 64-bit.
There. Is that geeky enough for you?? 64-freaking-bit my ass.
You WILL notice a lot more fan noise, especially after going into a graphics-heavy game. Rather than risk “cooking the insides” I tend to log off after about 90 minutes of online time, as I’m still feeling a bit cautious about the amount of heat my computer produces. Also, the fan noise goes up in volume and pitch and when it reaches a gratingly high note, it’s time to take a break anyway. It’s interesting to listen to the pitch and noise drop as soon as I log off of SL… takes it about 5 to 10 minutes to recover its normal sang-froid.
UPDATE II: Happy New Year! Today’s date is Jan. 9 2010.
Still having no problems with the GeForce LP/LP card in the Gateway SX2800. Taste the geeky flavr of technical specs, thanks to adamoz’s request and with my favorite In-House Geek’s help.
And as requested, the temperature reading off the sensors tab:
Hope that helps! I’ve been building stuff today, moving around a lot, and changing textures and shapes and skins today, so a pretty typical load for a Saturday.