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Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Helping a gaming buddy with an upgrade recently, I encountered behavior that reminded me that all the options should be kept open when troubleshooting problems, particularly with hardware. He has a good solid mid-range gaming machine, perhaps slightly handicapped by an aging Nvidia 8800GTS 320MB GPU. He upgraded to one of the new ATI 5850 from ASUS (the most potent card in the price range he wanted that would fit into his case).

The card was installed, and after driver installs and some quick game testing, it appeared that a very worthwhile upgrade had been made.

The next day, when he booted the machine, he noted the fans seemed to be running 'louder' at boot time than the prior evening. In addition, the boot time took an unusually long time, upwards of 45 seconds to get to the Windows start sequence after BIOS post, rather than the normal few seconds. Puzzling.

The first thought was an under performing power supply, but everything checked out fine. Curiously, if the machine was warm started, the fans ran quietly on the GPU but the boot sequence was still agonizingly long. Cold starts resulted in the GPU fans running at top speed, and even longer boot times.

A quick perusal of forums showed multitudes suffering the same issue. Many using the same motherboard as my friend, but no fixes. I decided to violate my normal rules with regards to BIOS updates (if it ain't broke, don't fix it!), and checked the ASUS site for any updates. Sure enough, there was a recent one, and one of the release note items specifically mentioned a fix for slow boot times with certain 5000 series ATI video cards.

Bingo! We cobbled up a quick and dirty DOS boot CD with the latest BIOS and flashing program, and proceeded to flash the BIOS.

The result? The fans of the GPU now ran quietly at boot, and boot times improved for certain, but they were still quite a bit longer than before. I opened up the machine, checking for any seating problems, etc. on the card. All was well. Then I noticed that one of the six  pin PCI-E auxiliary connectors (the card uses two) was not using a modular cable to his quite capable power supply, but was using a two-into-one four pin peripheral to six pin PCI-E adapter that came with the card. Both of the four pin ends were connected to one cable of the modular power supply, the only connections to that particular cable.

Now looking at this, I thought it should be okay, though I figured at maximum load (if the card actually draws as much as is allowed), there would be about a quarter volt of voltage drop from the wiring involved. I had thw owner dig up the original power supply box to find if any additional original cables were left, and found exactly what was needed: a correct six pin PCI-E modular cable.

After plugging this in, the machine behaved as expected. No more loud fans on boot (BIOS related), and no more slow boots (BIOS and power delivery issues).

The moral of the story? Never assume anything when troubleshooting, and always leave your options open.

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