Upgrade-a-Go-Go

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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.

GalaxyGeForce9600GTLPLP

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.

GatewayRearView

(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:

GatewaySX2800Open

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.

GatewaySX2800PCIe

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.

Via: Flickr
Title: Upgrade-a-Go-Go
By: GinnyRED57
Originally uploaded: 22 Aug ’09, 11.01pm CDT PST

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21 thoughts on “Upgrade-a-Go-Go

  1. thanks for the detailed page. i’ve been eyeballing this system and was wondering if I could install windows xp on it without any problems with drivers etc.

    thx

  2. I’m very happy with it, and the reviews I found were mostly positive, but a few reviewers (oddly, the ones with bad writing skillz) at C/Net and other sites hated it and had problems getting support from Gateway by phone. I was frustrated by the differences in file structure in Vista compared to Windows XP and still struggle to find pictures I’ve saved from online – they don’t go to where I expect them to be unless I really keep an eye on the folder information at the time they’re saved.

    My in-house geek thinks that the SX2800-01 should have no problem running XP, for what it’s worth. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I “GOOGLE D” this video card and found nothing. BestBuy did not list it, but a trip to the local store found three on the shelf, discounted / discontinued. It fit, It works, and I’m happy. But it is toasty.

  4. Thanks for doing this. I just bought this computer online. It hasn’t arrived yet, but I am looking at half-height, low profile tv tuners for the PCIe 1x slots to replace the modem that comes with it. From looking at your pictures, it doesn’t look like anything but a little mini card will fit past those two capacitors at the least and possibly not past the optical drive enclosure. Do you think that is the case? This is the one I was looking at: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16815293002. Any advice? Thanks again.

  5. Based on the pictures on the NewEgg site, I think it will fit in the PCIe 1x slot now occupied by the modem. It looks like the overhead height might be a little tight, but do-able, and your card doesn’t look much longer than the current modem card, and there’s a fair amount of room at the end yet.

    According to a review from last year at Virtual Hideout the card is less than 5″ long; in fact the guy said how surprised he was at how small it was.

    And wow, based on what that card will do, I’m kinda thinking of getting one myself, as it would be fun to have a TV tuner on the computer. However, we already have a big TiVo and I think Snapstream on one of my husband’s computers, so it’s probably overkill.

    But still… FM reception too? Huh. I’ll have to mull that one over.

    Good luck with your install. Let me know how it goes!

  6. I just purchased a sx2800 and while searching for a fitting GPU I came across your blog and your experience with the 9600 LPLP. You are really lucky to have found one, these things are surprisingly difficult to get a hold of! Anyway, I was wondering about a few things that I can’t seem to get answered elsewhere.
    Majority of the customer reviews that I have come across are written too close to the purchase date and thus don’t tell me how things turn out a week or months later. How has your 9600 LPLP fared so far? Anything particularly annoying, like the noise or the heat that? Any limitations, for example has the machine shut down from overheating? Does the top of the case heat up because of the card’s proximity to the chassis? Thanks Ginny!
    -Ivan

  7. Thanks, Ivan!

    Well, here it is the 17th of October already, and it’s still working fine. It’s louder when logged into Second Life, but I’m able to use the High and Ultra settings for graphics on SL without problems (in fact, clicking “default” on SL automatically sets it to “high,” where previously with the built-in Intel graphics card, it barely could handle “low.” )

    The top of the case does get warmer, but where it really gets hot is on the side, next to the hard drive. It clucks along much as normally, but when logged in to Second Life (or playing with a free 3-D modeling program) the fan speed increases to a high-pitched whine. I can stay logged in for as long as I want, however, and don’t seem to have any issues with overheating or spontaneous shutdowns.

    There was some kind of weird noise one day, which we figured was dust or pet hair in the main fan. After cracking the case open and doing a little judicious vacuuming/blowing, it seemed to be corrected.

    I bought it at the nearby Best Buy, but the page for it at the BB website seems to have been removed. It shows available for this same model at Tiger Direct and other sites via Shopper.Cnet.com, however.

  8. Hi, it is now December, just curious if you have had any heat issues with you system? I am a new SX2800 owner. I have done a lot of research for graphics cards for this system as well, I’m thinking about getting this card as well just very concerned about overheating, will probably drill holes in the top of my case above the location of the fan of the graphics card.

  9. Still working fine! In fact today I put a heavy load on the card by going to Tuna Oddfellow’s Odd Ball. Moved the camera around a lot, no problems. In fact SL crashed and everybody got booted. I’ve also recently gotten into building and texturing, no problems with the card or excessive heat even now.

  10. Ginny, Thanks for all the preceding detailed info! I bought a new SX2802-03 (similar to your SX-2800-01) and added the same Galaxy card. The graphics are great but I was unable to get the audio working with the HDMI output because the motherboard does not have an S/PDIF jack for connnection of the audio cable that feeds the 9600 GT audo. Tried disabling the HDMI audio and connecting speakers to the audio ports on the back of the case, but no luck. Are you using the HDMI output and did you encounter and solve this problem?

    By the way, I read a few poor reviews of the tuner card discussed above so bought a Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 dual tuner card instead. Seems to work well, as described on the Hauppauge web site.

  11. Roger, thanks for the comment. Sorry to say that I’m not using the HDMI output, and in fact I don’t have exterior speakers and use a headset exclusively.

    I’ll mention your problem to the IHG and see if he has any suggestion, though.

  12. hi ginny.. i got myself the sx2800 too.. i came upon ur site looking for a decent vidcard as im a gamer myself. so hows the card doin? have u tried to do the gpu-z on it? can u capture a screenshot and post it here pls? tnx for ur infos! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  13. screenshot of the heat sensor by the gpu-z too! so that we’ll know how hot it will be when fully loaded! 🙂 🙂 🙂 tnx tnx!

  14. wow! tnx for the screenies ginny! i already ordered my vidcard thru newegg and expecting it tom 🙂 tnx to ur blog.. i found the card i was looking for, for my sx2800 🙂 is the 66C on full load? wow it really gets hot.. i was wondering if i add another fan on the side.. just beside the card.. and screw it on the grill.. either the air towards the card or from it.. would it help? have u read anybody doin it? coz i think drilling holes is a lil too hard..

  15. Thank you for the review–both instructional and fun. I am trying to upgrade RAM. It seems that I have to remove the front cover and the CD/DVD rom drive to reach the slots to put new memories in. But I cannot figure out how. Could anyone possibly advise me on how to open the front cover or any websites or keywords helpful to find out the solution to my problem?

  16. the front cover is filmsy, you might be scared that it might break but it is the only way u can look into the cpu and remove your dvd rom and HDD case and install the memory units. try to use a little bit force to remove the fron cover with proper care. hope it helps if not will try to upload screenshots.

  17. I would probably be removing the side cover (as in the pictures), not going in through the front. And yes, you have to remove the optical drive from the side to access the RAM upgrade slots – dumb design, if you ask me! I probably won’t be upgrading RAM anytime soon for that reason, as it seems to chug along pretty well for me.

  18. Thank you for your pieces of advice, adnaan and ginny! I was able to install RAM “from the side first” and “with a bit of force.” I am also satisfied with faster responses — I tend to open many applications at one time.

  19. The gateway sx2800-01 is a very good computer for its price…with all the features that it offers its a great deal.

    I wanted to upgrade my gateway with a better graphics card to enable it to play games with really good graphics.
    I play more racing games than others. I was unable to play shift, grid and street fighter IV using the integrated graphics
    that the system came with. A descent graphics card will not fit in the case! luckily it had a PCIe slot. Since the graphics card will not fit and a bigger PSU is needed to power a good enough card comfortably, the only option was to transfer the contents into a new case.

    Additional components purchased:

    1. A 800 watt omega power supply (in case of future upgrades)

    2. A Cooler Master Elite 360 computer case

    3. A HIS Radeon HD 5670 graphics card (Physx compatible)

    4. 1 120mm and 1 80mm LED cooler master fans

    TOTAL = $ 2000.00 TT (approx) parts will cost less in the U.S. (no shipping etc

    The micro ATX mother board, power supply, HDD and DVD burner + fitted perfectly without modifications.
    *Multi card reader required minor case modifications together with the Graphics card. Back plate is also required, can be acquired from original case.

    Everything is running smoothly so far.

    1. Vista Home Premium. Service pack 2

    2. All index scores are equal, 5.9.

  20. Pingback: Gather Ye 580GTXs Where Ye May: #SecondLife #Specs - Second Life - CPU GPU Second Life System Requirements - Chameleonic Possessions

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