Technology Tieflings

Technology Tieflings, courtesy DesertFoxx

When Sister Moon’s Dell Inspiron 531 tanked last fall, we had to scramble to get a new machine for her. We saved some money and found a pretty decent HP replacement as we have pretty much written off Dell. Their usury nonsense regarding Dell credit was the last straw, but I had long ago given up on Dell desktops after having to carve open my Dimension 8400 case to install a beefier PSU to handle my GPU upgrade at the time. Nonsense, truly. I cannot state with enough vehemence that buying a Dell amounts to buying a disposable PC. No upgrade path, no recycle path, no future proofing. Ridiculous.

Shortly after buying the Inspiron, (Athlon X2 2.3GHz 1MBL2C, 2GB 667MHz DDR2), Luna expressed tremendous dissatisfaction with even basic Windows performance. After some review, the video subsystem was struggling to keep up so we checked with what Dell ‘approved’ using, (another factor that rankles me), and added an EVGA GeForce 9400GT 1GB GPU. This improved things enough for her. When the machine finally failed thanks to the HD crashing, it was the newest machine in a house of 2 desktops and 4 laptops.

My 17″ laptop has been my gaming rig for several years, but is severely showing it’s age. I had already purchased a WD 1TB drive for the Inspiron when Luna decided it was best just to replace the whole machine with an HP. This spring I finally decided to try recycling the 531 as a hold-over gaming desktop until I’m in a position to really build a new rig. I figured it’s still a dual core CPU and still had a 1GB GPU. I installed the new drive, reinstalled the OS, (Vista 32bit), and installed a few games to see how it would handle things. After playing an hour of Red Alert 3 it seemed like we had a winner. So I decided to give it a little push in the form of Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Dawn of War 2 and Starcraft 2, (wow, alot of sequels in the library). That’s when things fell apart…

Initially things looked pretty good and I was very hopeful. After some promising game play, suddenly the frames/sec plummeted to single digits. It was intermittent, but not locked up. After a while, things would speed back up. Reviewing PerfMon showed, a high volume of page faults, so I assumed more memory would do the trick. Consider that in 32bit the video memory gets gobbled up by the system memory, (not a layman’s discussion). In essence, the 2GB of memory in the machine translates to approx 0.75GB of usable memory after the system and video gobbles up what is needs. Not alot. So I found some Corsair 4GB (2x2GB) 800MHz DDR2 at a decent price with a good rebate, (it still amazes me that buying older kit is more expensive than newer kit), and promptly installed it. Windows loads faster, games load faster, but the same intermittent performance problem was every bit as evident. So I paid for a return label and got ready to pay the restocking fee. *sigh*

Then I had an epiphany! The Dell PSU only runs at a pathetic 300w. It has also run, nonstop, for the better part of 3 years. Accounting for aging, it could have lost as much as 30% of it’s capacity. As I was already planning on building a new machine, I decided to take a brief gamble. With a week to go on the valid RMA and an ever growing love for our Amazon Prime membership, I ordered up a new NZXT GAMMA case & Corsair 500w PSU, (recall, you cannot swap a new PSU into a stock Dell without carving the case open. Fuckers!). I spent Wed night swapping the entirety of the Dell guts into place. The only wrinkle was the utter lack of any documentation to support the front panel wiring harness, (HD & power lighting, power & reset switches), which stalled out an otherwise uneventful process.

TF2 seemed to play well enough, failing to exhibit the intermittent hiccup after my first death as it had been. In fact, I played a full game to 2 control point captures without too much trouble. I let DOW2 run a performance test and the numbers were abysmal, so I let it auto-tune and try again. The 2nd test looked good, so I sat down to play the final map, which traditionally exhibited the intermittent trouble. It seemed to perform well enough. It would seem that whatever was causing the problem was related to a system which was attempting to draw 332w of power thought a aging 300w system PSU. I’ll need some more testing, alas my father in law arrives tonight so gaming will be on hiatus through the weekend.

For now, I am hopeful that the $200 I’ve spent on this old machine is still serviceable enough to run Space Marine in the fall while I research the necessary parts for a proper build. If it doesn’t at least this is $165 I won’t need to spend on the next machine…

  • ASUS M2N61-AX (Dell Inspiron 531 mobo)
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ (2.3GHz, 1MB L2C)
  • Corsair 4GB (2x 2GB, 800MHz DDR2)
  • EVGA GeForce 9400 GT (1GB DDR2)
  • WD Caviar Blue (1TB, 7200rpm)
  • Linksys Draft-N NIC
  • NZXT GAMMA ATX Mid-Tower (3x 120mm fans)
  • Corsair 500CXV2 (500w, 80+ certified)

NovaBench Score

Soon, my pretty, soon there will be 3.3GHz quad core dreams…

© 2012 Brother Wolf & Sister Moon Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha