Circumventing ThinkPad’s WiFi Card Whitelisting

What started as a simple Mini PCI Express WiFi card swap on a ThinkPad T61 notebook, turned into deploying a custom BIOS in order to get the card to work.

I love ThinkPad notebooks, they are workhorses that keep on going and going. I always keep my older models around for testing, and one of my old T61’s had an Intel 4965AGN card, that worked fine with Windows 10, until the release of the Anniversary / Redstone 1 update. After the RS1 update, WiFi would either fail to connect, or randomly drop out. The 4965AGN card is not supported by Intel on Win10, and the internet is full of problem reports of Win10 and 4965AGN cards.

Ok, no problem, I’ll just get a cheap, reasonably new, with support for Win10, Mini PCIe WiFi card, and swap the card. I got an Intel 3160 dual band 802.11AC card and mounting bracket for about $20. The 3160 is a circa 2013 card with Win10 support. I installed the card, booted, and got a BIOS error 1802: Unauthorized network card is plugged in.

This lead me to the discovery of ThinkPad hardware whitelisting, where the BIOS only allows specific cards to be used, which lead me to Middleton’s BIOS, a custom T61 BIOS, that removes the hardware whitelisting, and enables SATA-2 support. I found working download links to the v2.29-1.08 Middleton BIOS here.

The BIOS update is packaged as a Win7 x86 executable or DOS bootable ISO image. As I’m running Win10 x64, and I could not find any CD-R discs around, I used Rufus to create a bootable DOS USB key, and I extracted the ISO contents using 7-Zip to a directory on the USB key. The ISO is created using a bootable 1.44MB DOS floppy image, and AUTOEXEC.BAT launches “FLASH2.EXE /U”, I created a batch file that does the same.

I removed the WiFi card, booted from USB, ran the flash, and got an error 1, complaining that flashing over the LAN is disabled. Ok, I enabled flashing the BIOS over the LAN in the BIOS, and rebooted.

I ran the update again, and this time I got error 99, complaining that BitLocker is enabled, and to temporarily disable BitLocker. I did not have BitLocker enabled, so I removed the hard drive and tried again, same error. Must be something in the BIOS, I disabled the security chip in the BIOS, tried again, and the update starts, but a minute or so later the screen goes crazy with INVALID OPCODE messages.

Hmm, maybe the updater does not like the FreeDOS boot image used by Rufus. Ok, let me create a MS-DOS USB key, uhh, on Win10, that turned out to be near impossible. Win10 does not include MS-DOS files, Rufus does not support custom locations for MS-DOS files, nor does it support getting them from floppy or CD images (readily available for download), the HP USB Disk utility complains my USB drive is locked, and writing raw images to USB result in a FAT12 disk structure that is too small to use. I say near impossible because I gave up, and instead went looking for an existing MS-DOS USB key I had made a long time ago. I am sure with a bit more persistence I could have found a way to create MS-DOS bootable USB keys on Win10, but that is an exercise of another day.

Trying again with a MS-DOS USB key, and voilà, BIOS flashed, and WiFi working.

I am annoyed that I had to go to this much trouble to get the new WiFi card working, but the best part of the exercise turns out to be the SATA-2 speed increase. This machine had a SSD drive, that I always found to be slow, but with the SATA-2 speed bump in Middleton’s BIOS, the machine is noticeably snappier.

A couple hours later, my curiosity got the better of me, and I made my own version of Rufus that will allow formatting of MS-DOS USB drives on Win10. In the process I engaged in an interesting discussion with the author of Rufus. I say interesting, but it was rather frustrating, Microsoft removed the MS-DOS files from Win10, and Rufus refuses to add support for sourcing of MS-DOS files from a user specified location, citing legal reasons, and my reluctance to first report the issue to FreeDOS. Anyway, can code, have compiler, if have time, will solve problem.

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XBMC on NUC’s and Pi’s

I’m still looking for the perfect XBMC hardware; must be small, silent, low power, low heat, 1080p, HD audio, and play anything I throw at it without a hiccup. The number of options are increasing, but no clear winner.

 

 

I previously tested a XIOS DS running XBMC on Android, and XBMC on Linux. At that time the builds were pretty unstable. I retested the latest Linux builds, that also include XBMC 12 Frodo RC2.

I tested using the 121512 release, after rebooting, I just saw a black screen. I could see that the AVR had negotiated HDMI audio, but the screen remained black. Reading the forum thread there were many reports of similar problems, same symptoms, leave the system up, and after 15 minutes XBMC loaded. The bug has been identified, but not yet fixed in official firmware. I used a community build that included the fix, and the system booted normally.

I noticed that there are now two hardware variants of the DS, a M1 version, that I have, and a new M3 version, that apparently includes a faster processor and more memory, and is currently only shipped in the EU and UK. This seems to be consistent with the AMLogic AML8726-M SoC device containing an ARM Cortex-A9 and a Mali-400 graphic processor.

The playback results were rather disappointing, no HD audio pass-through, high bitrate content would stutter, and I would get frequent network re-buffering. This device still shows promise, but not in its current state.

 

 

I tested XBMC on a Raspberry Pi. The Pi devices are pretty cheap at $35, but the units at this price have very long lead times. Instead I opted to buy an in-stock Model B Revision 2 unit from Amazon, and also a case.

The Pi Model B Revision 2 uses the Broadcom BCM2835 SoC device containing an ARM1176JZ-F with VideoCore IV graphic processor.

Deploying XBMC to a Pi is rather more involved compared to the DS, and I opted to use the Raspbmc distribution that includes easy to use tools for Windows. The deployment tool creates a bootable SD card, that then retrieves and installs the latest builds over the internet, similar to many Linux network boot disk installers.

The playback results were rather disappointing, no HD audio support, high bitrate content would stutter, and I would get very frequent network re-buffering.

Similar to openELEC that provides a XBMC plugin for OS configuration, Raspbmc configuration in XBMC is done using the Raspbmc plugin. When I first clicked the plugin I thought it did nothing, and after several more remote clicks it suddenly displayed and did whatever my remote clicks did, causing a restart. The plugin provides lots of configuration options, including switching of XBMC versions, downloading and running nightly builds, and advanced configuration, but really it is super slow to load up.

XBMC on the DS supported HD audio passthrough, but Raspbmc did not include HD audio support. The plugin allowed me to enable the XBMC AudioEngine, with a warning that it may not work. After restarting XBMC with AE enabled, there were options for HD audio, but AE did not detect the HDMI audio output device and only offered audio output over analog or SPDIF.

MPEG2 and VC-1 codecs have to be purchased for the Pi, but as my test results were disappointing, I did not bother purchasing the codecs.

 

 

I tested one of the new Intel Next Unit of Computing devices, specifically the DC3217IYE. The device is barebones, and I used Kingston KVR16S11K2/16 16GB memory and a Kingston SMS100S2/64G 64GB mSATA card. Oh, and you need your own power cable, I happened to have a spare Monoprice 7687 3-prong power cable lying around that fit the PSU.

I don’t know what to make of it, but Intel included a gadget in the box, that plays the Intel jingle every time you open the box. I’m inclined to think that they could have included a power cable instead of the jingle gadget, but my kids do enjoy playing with the box, so it may have some marketing value.

Here are a few unboxing pictures:
IMG_1384_DxOIMG_1385_DxOIMG_1386_DxOIMG_1388_DxOIMG_1389_DxOIMG_1390_DxOIMG_1391_DxOIMG_1392_DxOIMG_1393_DxOIMG_1394_DxOIMG_1395_DxOIMG_1396_DxOIMG_1397_DxOIMG_1398_DxOIMG_1399_DxO

 

I installed openELEC v3 Beta 6, that includes XBMC 12 Frodo RC2.

Most things worked fine, audio output device was automatically detected and set to HDMI, but HD audio passthrough did not work, and several videos showed artifacts during playback, even worse, some videos caused lots of artifacts and caused the device to hang. I assume the video issue is a problem with the Intel HD graphics driver being picked up by openELEC.

I am using a D-Link DSM-22 RF remote (I wish I can find more for sale), and I found that the key presses were erratic, after moving the RF dongle from a rear USB port to the front USB port, everything worked fine. I assume there is some interference near the back of the unit.

Physical size wise the NUC compares well against a Zotac ZBox Nano XS AD11 Plus, but price wise the NUC is more expensive once memory and flash storage is added.

The Nano XS is a Fusion based device, which means it will never get HD audio passthrough (AMD drivers lack HD audio support on Linux), so if openELEC and Intel can resolve the video corruption on the NUC, and XBMC can resolve the HD passthrough problem with my setup, the NUC would be a good contender.

 

I am still running openELEC on my Zotac ZBOX ID84 system with a NVidia GeForce GT520M GPU. This GPU supports HD audio passthrough, but as with my other devices, it does not work on my setup. The problem appears to be related to how XBMC AudioEngine targets audio, and that instead of sending the audio to the AVR, it sends it to the television, but this is speculation on my part. I logged a ticket with openELEC and XBMC, and there is a forum thread at openELEC with other Yamaha and Onkyo AVR users reporting similar problems, but nobody from openELEC or XBMC has yet responded 😦

 

Here is a comparison of device sizes, top is Raspberry Pi, then XIOS DS, then ZBOX AD11, then Intel NUC, and ZBOX ID84 at the bottom:
PV_20121226_5060_DxOPV_20121226_5061_DxO

 

My quest continues.

Dyslexic Intel RSTe Driver

I encounter one problem after another running Windows 8 and Server 2012 on the dual Xeon E5 Intel C600 chipset based SuperMicro 7047A-T and 7047A-73 SuperWorkstation machines. I will say that this is really not representative of my Windows 8 experience in general, as all other machines I installed on worked fine with the in-box drivers.

The C602 includes the Intel Storage Controller Unit (SCU) SATA / SAS controller. Windows 8 and Server 2012 do not include in-box drivers for the SCU. The SCU drivers are part of the Intel Rapid Storage Technology Enterprise (RSTe) driver set. Note that the RSTe and RST drivers are different and not compatible with one another. When you install the full RSTe package, it includes SCU drivers for the SCU RAID controller, AHCI drivers for the SATA controller, and the Windows RST management application.

A clean install of Windows 8 will use the in-box drivers for the SATA controller. In the image below you can see the Intel 520 Series 480GB SSD drive show up with the correct model number:

Device.Manager.Win8

After installing RSTe (3.2.0.1132, 3.2.0.1134), the 4TB Hitachi drives attached to the SCU show up, but the model numbers of the drives, including the SSD drive attached to the SATA port, are now messed up:

Device.Manager.RSTe

The drive hardware identifiers are correct, but the friendly name is not:

Intel.SSD.Hardware

Intel.SSD.Friendly

It appears that the text BYTE’s are WORD swapped, i.e. ABCD becomes BADC.

The driver is also not functional, attempting to create a storage spaces pool using the Hitachi drives hangs forever, with no drive activity, requiring a hard power cycle:

Storage.Pool

And lastly, the Intel SSD Toolbox 3.0.3 is not compatible with Windows 8:

SSD.Toolbox

The clock is ticking for Windows Server 2012 (4 September, 1 day left) and Windows 8 (26 October, 7 weeks left) general availability, I can only hope compatible drivers, firmware, and utilities are forthcoming.

 

[Update: 4 September 2012]
SuperMicro posted updated RSTe drivers (package v3.5.0.1101, driver v3.5.0.1096). This driver set resolves the hang during storage space creation, but the drive names are still messed up.

Zotac ZBHOXHD-ID11 Case Positioning Impact on Fan Noise

As I was testing the ID11, I noticed differences in the thermal behavior based on how the case was positioned.
I tested three positions; case open, case vertical, and case horizontal.

This is the fifth post in a series of posts related to the Zotac ZBOX ZBOXHD-ID11.

Summary:

  • Place the case in a vertical position for best cooling.

 

I used the Beta BIOS for testing. I let the system sit idle, placed it under load, then back to idle, while I recorded the fan speed and temperatures. The ambient temperature was 21C / 70F.

 

Below are the CPU temperature and fan speed graphs for an open case:

CPUTIN.Case.Open

CPUFANIN0.Case.Open

 

Below are the CPU temperature and fan speed graphs for a vertical case:

CPUTIN.Case.Vertical

CPUFANIN0.Case.Vertical

 

Below are the CPU temperature and fan speed graphs for a horizontal case:

CPUTIN.Case.Horizontal

CPUFANIN0.Case.Horizontal

 

Summary:

Case Placement

Max CPU Temp

Max Fan Speed

Open Lid 55C 1700RPM
Vertical 59C 2350RPM
Horizontal 66C 3300RPM

 

From the data we can see that the fan does not appear to have sufficient ventilation, and that in the horizontal position the air flow appears to be severely restricted.

I am tempted to mod the case to allow for better airflow, maybe cut a larger opening for the intake, or replace the centrifugal blower fan with a conventional fan, something like the Scythe KAZE JYU SLIM.

Zotac ZBOXHD-ID11 Beta BIOS Reduces Fan Speed and Noise

In a previous post I measured the fan speed and noise under load, and I found it to be unacceptably high.
Zotac support notified me that a new Beta BIOS is available that address the issue.
In this post I measure the difference between the release BIOS and the Beta BIOS.

This is the fourth post in a series of posts related to the Zotac ZBOX ZBOXHD-ID11.

Summary:

  • The Beta BIOS reduces the fan speed and noise significantly.
  • The default BIOS values need some adjustment to get acceptable results.
  • Similar results may be possible with the current BIOS by setting the target temperature to 65C.

 

The Beta BIOS was first announced on the global Zotac site, it only later appeared on the US site. I would recommend that ID11 owners look for updates on the global site instead of the US site.
The Beta BIOS is available for download from here.

As with the 4GB BIOS update, the update tools included in the Zip file do not work on Windows 7 x64. I downloaded the latest BIOS update tools from the AMI site, and used the AFUWinx64.exe application to update the BIOS.

Below are two screenshots of the BIOS, first the Beta BIOS, then the current BIOS:
Beta.BIOS.PCHealth

Health.Monitor

The new [CPUFAN Mode] Setting is called [SMART Mode].
Several of the parameters changed, and the fan ratio settings are no longer 0-255, but a percentage value.

I changed the BIOS values to:
[Smart FAN start Temperature] = 50C
[CPUFAN Tolerance Value] = 2C
[CPUFAN Lowest Value] = 30%
[CPUFAN Maximum Value] = 100%
[CPUFAN Step Value] = 4%

I ran a series of tests to determine what the minimum fan speed is in relation to the [CPUFAN Lowest Value] setting:
20% = No value reported by BIOS.
30% = 1000RPM
40% = 1800RPM
50% = 2500RPM

At 20% the BIOS did not report a fan speed. Visual inspection showed the fan was spinning, but very slow. I think too slow for such a small fan, so I set the value to 30%.

At idle the CPU runs at or just below 50C, so I set the [Smart FAN start Temperature] to 50C.

I left the [CPUFAN Tolerance Value] and the [CPUFAN Step Value] values at the BIOS defaults of 2C and 4%.

I placed the system under load with the [CPUFAN Maximum Value] value at 90% and 100%, but in both cases the maximum fan speed never exceeded 3300RPM, so it appears as if the 90% throttling value was not reached in my tests. To be on the safe side I set the [CPUFAN Maximum Value] at 100%.

 

Although the latest Beta version of Lavalys EVEREST now correctly detects the Winbond controller, it still does not report accurate readings. So in order to measure values under load, I used CPUID Hardware Monitor Pro to measure, and Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) to place the system under load.

As in my previous test, I let the system sit idle, placed it under load, then back to idle, while I recorded the fan speed and temperatures.

Below are two graphs showing fan speed under load, first the Beta BIOS, then the current BIOS:
CPUFANIN0.Beta.Stability

CPUFANIN0.Stability

Comparing the graphs, the Beta BIOS maximum fans speed is around 2400RPM, while the current BIOS maximum fan speed is around 5300RPM. The Beta BIOS made a significant improvement in reducing fan speed and noise.

Below are two graphs showing CPU temperature under load, first the Beta BIOS, then the current BIOS:
CPUTIN.Beta.Stability

CPUTIN.Stability

Comparing the graphs, the Beta BIOS lets the CPU temperature reach around 65C, while the current BIOS limits the CPU temperature to around 50C. In the Beta BIOS the [Smart FAN start Temperature] is set to 50C, and in the current BIOS the [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] was set to 50C. The 50C [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] was the value recommended by Zotac support. I wonder if the value was set to 65C if the fan would have been comparable to the Beta BIOS?

Zotac ZBOXHD-ID11 4GB RAM

In this post I describe my experience while upgrading the BIOS, in order to support 4GB of memory.

This is the third post in a series of posts related to the Zotac ZBOX ZBOXHD-ID11.

Summary:
– 4GB is supported after upgrading the BIOS.
– BIOS has to be updated using less than 4GB, else ID11 fails to post.

[Update: 20 May 2010]
After writing this post, the machine started bluescreen / BSOD crashing.
Mostly MEMORY_MANAGEMENT / 0x0000001A errors, with occasional 0x000000BE and 0x0000003B crashes.
When I initially installed the 4GB RAM, I ran memtest for one cycle, and the RAM tested fine. I just reran memtest, and it is reporting that the memory as bad.
I replaced the memory with a new stick, I ran memtest overnight, and everything seems back to normal.
I hope it was just a bad stick, and not the ID11 that killed the memory.

When I ordered my ID11, I also ordered a 4GB Kingston SODIM RAM stick.
When I received the ID11, the specs said 2GB only, and after contacting Zotac support, and posting in their support forum, they confirmed that 4GB is not supported.
I reverted to using a 2GB Kingston SODIM RAM stick.

I was pleasantly surprised when Zotac announced a BIOS update that added 4GB support.

The BIOS changes are described as follows:
Version 05/11/10
.Added support on 4GB memory modules
.Added CMOS selection on Logo LED

I downloaded the BIOS update, extracted the contents, and tried running the AFUWIN AMI BIOS update utility. After a warning message appeared telling me to not run other apps and not to power down, on clicking ok, nothing happened. I tried again this time running AFUWIN.exe as administrator, still nothing.

I went to the AMI site, and downloaded their latest Windows BIOS update utility. Since I was running Windows 7 Ultimate x64, I ran AFUWINx64.exe, this binary automatically UAC prompted for elevated access, and presented this warning:

I opened the A140PA19.rom file, and the information tab showed the following:

I started the flash, and got this warning:

I accepted, and the flash completed:

I rebooted, and the POST screen showed a CMOS Checksum Bad error:

I pressed F1 to enter setup, and I made the following changes:
[Exit] [Load Optimal Defaults]
[Advanced] [PC Health Monitor] [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] = 50
[Advanced] [IDE Configuration] [Configure SATA as] = AHCI
[Advanced] [PCIPnP] [Plug & Play OS] = Yes

The two BIOS changes are visible under these sections:
[Chipset] [North Bridge Configuration] “PCI MMIO Allocation: 4GB to 3072MB”
[Chipset] [South Bridge Configuration] [LOGO LED indicator:]

I rebooted, and everything worked fine.

Next I powered down, and replaced the 2GB RAM with 4GB RAM.

On reboot the following changes were visible on the POST screen and in the BIOS:

Booting into Windows, the following 4GB related changes were visible:

So far everything appears to work fine.
One of these days I will really get to testing media playback performance.

By the way.
In my first impressions post I reported that the ID11 came with the wrong power cable. Zotac support sent me the correct replacement cables free of charge:

Zotac ZBOXHD-ID11 First Impressions

Untitled Page

I am sharing my experiences and first impressions of the Zotac ZBOXHD-ID11-U mini PC.
In the coming days I will connect the device to my home theater, and review the behavior running Windows Media Center, XBMC, and Media-Portal.

This is first post in a series of posts related to the Zotac ZBOX ZBOXHD-ID11.

Summary:
– To enter the BIOS, cold boot and press DEL.
– To select a boot device, cold boot and press F11.
– To enable Aero, run the Windows Experience Index assessment.
– To improve performance, install updated drivers from the hardware vendor site.
– To correct HDMI audio output, install updated drivers from the hardware vendor site.
– To reduce fan noise, change the BIOS temperature thresholds.
– The fan is loud and the box runs hot.

After reading about the new ID11 on several news sites, I was eagerly awaiting its availability.
As soon as the ID11 became available, I ordered three units from NewEgg.

I am currently using a two self built HTPC’s, one is in a Lian-Li media center case, and the other is an AOpen miniPC MP945-VDR.

I am particularly interested in the ID11 because of the small form factor, the HDMI output, and the ability to reliably play 1080p content.

There is a review of the ID11 on AnandTech.

You can watch a video, created by Zotac, of the ID11 on YouTube.

The first thing I noticed when unpacking was the strange power cable.
There is a three-pin power plug on the power brick side, and a two-pin power plug on the wall side, with a loose ground wire.
This did not seem safe to me, I contacted Zotac support, and they said they will mail me proper three-pin power cables.
Below is a picture of the plug:

[Update: 18 May 2010] 
Zotac support sent me the correct replacement cables free of charge:

The ID11 comes with everything included, except for a hard drive and memory.
I installed a 80GB Intel SSD (SSDSA2MH080G2R5) hard drive, and a Kingston 2GB (KVR800D2S5/2G) SODIM RAM module, I ordered the SSD and the RAM from Amazon.

Below is a picture of the case before the SSD and memory installation:
Below is a picture of the case after the SSD and memory installation:

I wanted to install from a USB key, but it took me a while to figure out how to boot from the USB key, and how to enter the BIOS.

On booting there is just a Zotac logo, no BIOS instructions or POST messages.
The instruction manual included in the box makes no mention of how to enter the BIOS.
I tried a variety of keys that normally lets you enter the BIOS; ESC, DEL, F2, F10, F12, and eventually I was able to enter the BIOS.
I changed the BIOS configuration to not show the logo, and on the next boot I could see that F11 lets me choose a boot device, and DEL enters the BIOS setup.
I later read in the Zotac support forum that DEL only works on a cold boot, that explains why it would not work for me when I just did a Ctrl-Alt-Del.
I installed Windows 7 Ultimate x64, and the install completed reasonably fast.

The default Windows installation included drivers for all devices, and there were no unrecognized or non-functional devices listed in device manager.

Below is a picture of device manager:

After installing Windows I ran Windows Update, the first update pulled down 4 updates totaling about 140MB, after a reboot a second update contained 26 updates totaling about 34MB.

The Atheros wireless driver, and the NVidia graphics drivers were updated as part of the update, the NVidia driver accounts for about 130MB of the first update.
After all updates were applied I ran the Windows Experience Index assessment, and got a score of 3.4, limited by the processor score.
I noticed that after running the assessment, the UI became Aero enabled.

Below is a picture of the experience index:

I noticed that the device manager listed five high definition audio devices.

The playback devices list shows four HDMI devices, speakers, and a S/PDIF device.
I don’t know why there are four HDMI devices when there is only one HDMI port.

Below is a picture of the playback devices:

The Zotac support site lists downloads for the ID11.

Several of the downloads failed with 503 server too busy errors, after several retries they did download, but the ZBOXHD-ID11 INF update is permanently 404.
Some of the drivers on the Zotac site were older than those installed by Windows.
The packaging did include a driver CD, a cursory inspection showed the drivers to be the same or older than those on the Zotac download site.

Below is a summary of the drivers installed by Windows, available from the Zotac support site, and available from the driver manufacturer site:
Device Name Windows Zotac Manufacturer
NVidia ION Graphics 8.17.11.9745 8.17.11.9666 8.17.11.9745
NVidia HD Audio 6.1.7600.16385 (Microsoft) 1.0.0.63 1.0.9.1
Realtek HD Audio 6.1.7600.16385 (Microsoft) 2.40 / 6.0.1.6013 2.47 / 6.0.1.6101
Realtek RTL8111D Ethernet 7.2.1127.2008 7.5.730.2009 7.018 / 7.18.322.2010
Atheros AR9285 Wireless 8.0.0.238 7.7.0.231 9.0.0.173 *
Intel AHCI Storage 6.1.7600.16385 (Microsoft) 8.9.0.1023 9.6.0.1014

*Atheros do not make their drivers available for direct download, I used Google to find an updated driver.

Below is a picture of the device manager after the driver updates:

Below is a picture of playback devices after the driver updates:

Below is a picture of the experience index after the driver updates:

Note the difference in performance after installing updated drivers:

Graphics: 4.5 to 4.6
Hard Disk: 5.9 to 7.7

The ID11 is supposed to be used as a HTPC, and as such it needs to be very quiet.

At boot the fan is quiet but during normal operation the fan gets louder, and under load the fan gets very loud. The small physical size of the fan probably contributes to the high pitch of the fan noise and makes it more noticeable.

I contacted Zotac support about the noise, and they recommended that I change the BIOS settings as follows:
[Advanced][PC Health Monitor][CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] = 50
[Advanced][PC Health Monitor][CPUFAN Tolerance Value] = 3

The default value for [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] is 45C.
In the BIOS, with the CPU doing nothing, the temperature is 47C, and the fan speed is 6490RPM.

I changed the value of [CPUFAN TargetTemp Value] from 45C to 50C.
In the BIOS, with the CPU doing nothing, the temperature is 51C, and the fan speed is 5273RPM.

The fan is quieter, but not quite, and the case is getting hotter.
It seems that the fan is not very effective at cooling, and still does not run as quiet as I would like even at the higher thresholds.

Below is a picture of the PC health monitor page in the BIOS:
In order to monitor the fan speed and the CPU/GPU temperature I installed Lavalys EVEREST Ultimate Edition 5.50.2136 and SpeedFan 4.41.b9, both applications detected the CPU/GPU temperatures, but neither application detected the fan speed.
I also noticed that EVEREST reported the CPU temperatures much higher compared to SpeedFan, the SpeedFan measurements seemed closer to what the BIOS reported, so it may be a problem with EVEREST.
I will contact Zotac and Lavalys support to find out if the hardware is supposed to support fan speed monitoring, and what the correct temperature measurement is supposed to be, will report back later on my findings.

Below is a picture of the GPU and CPU temperatures in EVEREST Ultimate Edition:

Below is a picture of the GPU and CPU temperatures in SpeedFan:

[Update: 26 May 2010]
CPUID Hardware Monitor supports the ID11 hardware.
The latest Beta version of EVEREST supports the ID11.

As I mentioned in the introduction, I bought three ID11’s.

Two worked fine, but the third one had a video corruption problem on the BIOS and boot screens.
I tried various outputs; DVI-D, DVI-I, VGA, and various monitors, same problem.
I filed a RMA with NewEgg, and returned the on ID11 for an exchange.

Below is picture of the screen corruption:
So far I have mixed feelings; the weird power plug, the fan noise, the heat, the screen corruption, are all negatives, but the device still shows promise.
In the coming days I will connect the device to my home theater, and compare the behavior while running Windows Media Center, XBMC, and Media-Portal.

Intel DP45SG and Lian-Li PC-C33B HTPC

I recently built a new home theater PC using an Intel DP45SG motherboard and a Lian-Li PC-C33B case.
I am replacing my existing HTPC that appears to be not quite compatible with Windows 7.
The existing machine uses a Lian-Li PC-C31B case, Intel DG33TL motherboard, and ATI Sapphire HD 2600XT video card.
I started documenting the new machine installation, but the new case was on backorder, and I had all components except the new case, so I tried the HD 5750 card in the old machine.
The results were not so good, skip ahead and read about the display driver that stops responding, or read on.
Some background on the old machine…
The HD 2600XT GPU fan was very load, too loud for a HTPC.
I replaced the stock HD 2600XT fan with a Zalman VF900-Cu fan, and this made it much quieter.

The stock Lian-Li case fans reported erratic rotational speeds with the DG33TL fan sensors.
I replaced the stock case fans with Antec Tri-Cool fans, and the rotational speeds were reported correctly.

Since upgrading from Vista to Windows 7, the machine does not stay asleep, it will go to sleep, then within a few seconds wake up again.
The DG33TL board is also missing some Windows 7 drivers, specifically the SMBus driver from Vista has to be installed in compatibility mode.
I am a great fan of Lian-Li cases, they are light, extremely well made, and very stylish.
I have owned several Lian-Li cases, including a PC-V2100B Plus II, PC-C31B, PC-A06B, PC-60FWB, PC-B71B, and the latest the PC-C33B.
I chose to replace my PC-C31B case with the Lian-Li PC-C33B case because I wanted to use an ATX size motherboard, and the PC-C31B case only accommodates Micro-ATX boards.
The PC-C31 was succeeded by the PC-C32, and the PC-C32 was succeeded by the PC-C33, so the cases are very similar.
On the outside the PC-C31B and the PC-C33B look nearly identical, on the inside the PC-C33B layout is more spacious, and better laid out.
The one thing I wish the PC-C33B had retained was the hidden CD-ROM covers, it makes for a neater appearance.

I am not particular to any one brand of motherboard, but I normally use either Asus, Gigabyte, or Intel.
I chose the Intel DP45SG because it has already undergone several revisions to iron out the kinks, and it provided the basic functionality I needed without any additional bells and whistles I don’t need.
With the release of the i5 and i7 processors, and P55 chipsets, I chose to stay with the P45 chipset because the Core processors and dual-channel DDR3 memory is is reasonably cheap.
I went with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 3GHz processor, and Kingston KHX1333C7D3K2 memory.
I haven’t used NVidia graphic cards in a long time, compared to the ATI HD series cards, the NVidia equivalents are just too expensive.
I chose the ATI Sapphire HD 5750 because it has an HDMI connecter, thus no need for a DVI to HDMI adapter, and it is quiet.
I could have gone with the 5770, but the 5750 is sufficient for my needs, primarily watching movies, and is quieter and uses less power.
The DP45SG board has three fan connectors, Front, Rear, and AUX.
The Lian-Li PC-C33B case has three fans, two rear 80mm 1200rpm fans, and a 140mm 1200rpm HDD cage fan.
I connected the front and rear fan connectors to the two rear 80mm fans, and the AUX connector to the 140mm HDD cage fan.
The DP45SG BIOS supports temperature feedback fan control.
But with this option enabled, the two stock Lian-Li 80mm rear fans would not run at all.
If I disable fan control, meaning the fans are on all the time, the fans worked fine.
I replaced the two stock fans with Scythe S-Flex 80mm 1500rpm fans, and they worked perfectly, and silently, at low RPM.
When I ordered the 80mm fans, I also ordered a Scythe Kaze Maru 140mm 1200rpm fan to replace the stock Lian-Li 140mm fan.
When I tried to install it, I realized that this was really a 120mm fan, or at least the mounting holes were for a 120mm fan.
There is a little piece of text on Scythe site that I missed:
“*Only Compatible to 120mm fan Slots!!*”
I left the stock Lian-Li 140mm fan and it works fine, maybe a little loud, but I don’t have a suitable replacement.
While searching for information on the fans not running, I came across the following on the Intel Desktop Control Center site:
“The Intel Desktop Board DP45SG was updated to revision AA# E27733-405 to add an alternate hardware monitoring and fan control ASIC.”
I have the 405 revision board, but without access to an older board, I really don’t know what changed.
I used Lavalys EVEREST to monitor the fan speeds from within Windows, at idle the 80mm fans run around 410rpm, and the 140mm fan at around 1100rpm.
EVEREST does however report the wrong fan labels; System should be AUX, Chassis should be Front, and Power Supply should be Rear.
I posted the mismatch on the EVEREST forum, I hope they fix it at some point.
The DP45SG board requires three power connectors, the normal 2×12 pin, a 2×2 pin, and a 4×1 pin.
I’ve seen other Intel boards requiring the additional 2×2, but this is the first board I’ve seen that requires the 2×2 and a 4×1.
I previously had a problem with an Intel S5000PSL board that required the extra 2×2, but the Corsair HX 850W PSU did not include the 2×2 pin connector, I had to buy a 4×1 to 2×2 converter for this board.
Fortunately the Thermaltake Toughpower 650W PSU I used for this build had all the required connectors.
On running the system I noticed one abnormality reported in the eventlog:
“The platform firmware has corrupted memory across the previous system power transition. Please check for updated firmware for your system.”

Searching I found several people reporting this event on a variety of hardware.
I did find this document from Microsoft on the topic, and they have this to say:
“During Windows development, we observed some systems that corrupt the lowest 1 MB of physical memory during a sleep transition. We traced the memory corruption to code defects in platform firmware. Because of the pervasiveness of the problem in the industry and the desire for reliable sleep transitions, Windows no longer stores operating system code and data in the lowest 1 MB of physical memory.”
Everything is now up and running with Windows 7 Ultimate x64.
The new HTPC replaced the old one in our living room, all that is left to do are the final tweaks for power profiles, remote control only login, codec’s, etc.
I normally use Media-Portal for a media frontend, but I’ve been playing with XBMC, and I think I’ll give that a try instead.
The new machine is not as quiet as the old one, I suspect it is because of the 140mm fan, and the additional ventilation holes on the side of the case.
I’ll keep on looking for a quieter 140mm fan, and maybe add some sound insulation, but for now it is good enough.

Problems with the old HTPC and the new HD 5750 card…

The new Lian-Li PC-C33B case was on backorder, so while I had all components except the case, I tried the HD 5750 in my current machine.
The HD 2600XT worked out of the box with the drivers included with Windows 7 Ultimate x64.
I replaced the HD 2600XT with the HD 5750, on reboot the display reverted to standard VGA, and 640×480 resolution.
I had to download and install the ATI Catalyst 9.11 drivers.
One would think that a VGA driver installer would be designed to fit on a screen that does not have VGA drivers installed, i.e. fit on a 640×480 resolution screen?
But no, with the standard VGA resolution the ATI driver installer window does not fit on the screen.
In order to install the drivers I had to move the window using the keyboard, see what the keyboard accelerator shortcut for a UI element is, or see where the tab focus is.
Really ATI, this seems like such a basic thing.

After the driver was installed I noticed the screen underscanned, meaning there is a black border or unused space around the screen.
I know from past experience that there is an overscan option in the Catalyst Control Center, but when I looked where I remember the setting to be, I could not find it.
I also noticed that the control panel menu layout has completely changed, and not for the better.
After some searching I found that you have to go to your displays panel, then click on the little arrow on the small monitor window, not the big monitor window.

Then adjust the overscan.
It was interesting to note that the default value, in Windows 7 at least, is to underscan.
When I first hooked up my HTPC running Vista to my plasma TV, fixing the overscan is the first thing I tried to do so that I could see the entire desktop.
Usability wise it makes sense to have a default that will let you see the entire desktop, vs. a default that cuts of parts of the screen.
My preference is to just let the TV overscan and not let the graphic card scale the output to compensate for overscan.
The 1:1 ratio, i.e. no scaling, results in better graphic quality, especially noticeable with fonts, at the expense of the desktop edge not being visible.
As I was searching for information on the new CCC options, I found many people complaining about CCC, and recommending using ATI Tray Tools instead.
I’ve never used it myself, but it is good to know there are alternatives.

Now that the driver was installed, another problem presented itself.
Every minute or so the screen would freeze, then a few seconds later it would start responding again, and windows would report:
“Display driver stopped responding and has recovered”.
When this happens the screen would freeze, the mouse cursor would still work, sometimes there would be squiggly lines on the screen, and other times it would go gray.
On two occasions the screen did not recover and I had to do a hard reset.

Analyzing the dump file with WinDbg, the problem is related to TDR, VIDEO_TDR_TIMEOUT_DETECTED, GRAPHICS_DRIVER_TDR_TIMEOUT.
MSDN has the following to say:
“This indicates that the display driver failed to respond in a timely fashion.”
Searching I found many people complaining about this problem with Windows 7 x64 and the 57xx cards, see here, here, and here.
A common response was to wait for the new Catalyst 9.12 drivers.
I was still using the 9.11 drivers, so I waited, and when released, I installed 9.12, but the same problem.
The ATI forum reported the same, the 9.12 driver, and the 9.12 driver hotfix does not address this problem.
The 5750 is still not working with the DG33TL board, but, fortunately it does work in the DP45SG board.
I replaced the HD 5750 with the old HD 2600XT, and the old machine is working fine again.

Getting Vista to go to sleep

I noted my troubles with the Intel GMA drivers, the Intel DG33TL motherboard, and Vista SP1 blue screen crashing in my earlier post.

Since I was running the 15.8 version of the Intel GMA drivers, and Microsoft KB948343 indicates that, based on the driver version numbers, these newer drivers should not be affected by SP1, yet the crash details were clearly the same, and no new driver was forthcoming to correct the blue screen crash, I decided to take the GMA drivers out of the picture.

I am currently using an ATI HD 26000 XT card in my HTPC, and this is a great card. I looked for the same model, the one I was using is from VisionTek, but I found a Sapphire brand card for significantly less. I am actually happier with the Sapphire compared with the VisionTek, the VisionTek fan was really loud, and since I was using it in my HTPC, I ended up buying a Zalman VF900-Cu replacement fan for the VisionTek card. The Sapphire card has no problem with a noisy fan.

I installed the ATI card, installed the drivers, and put the machine to sleep. This is where the GMA drivers would normally crash. This time there was no crash, but the machine also immediately woke up again, I could not get it to stay in sleep mode.

At this point I had had enough of the DG33TL board; it had given me more trouble than I was willing to put up with and I wanted a replacement board. Since I already had the machine open, while replacing the VGA card, I wanted a new board now, which meant instead of ordering online and waiting a few days I had to take a trip to my local Fry’s.

I knew my in store choices would be limited, so I did some research and selected a few models from Asus, Gigabyte, and Intel, with the primary requirement being ICH9 support so that I would not lose the RAID-0 configuration of my drives, and the motherboard swap would not require an OS reinstall. My first choice would have been a Gigabyte GA-G33-DS3R, unfortunately, as I suspected, it turns out that of all the options I was hoping for the only board that came close was an Intel DQ35JO.

Of the three boards on the shelf, all of them had been returns and were resealed, so this was even more of a risk, but they were marked down a few dollars so that did make me feel better, and I could always return the board.

The DQ35JO is very similar to the DG33TL. The DQ35JO is from the Executive series, and the DG33TL is from the Media series. The DQ35JO has no multichannel audio, but does have TPM and AMT. The component layouts are almost identical.

I replaced the board, powered on, the POST screen came up and then nothing. On reading the Intel support documents they recommended a BIOS reset. I removed the battery, waited a few minutes, replaced the battery and rebooted. This time the POST completed, and I could boot. I assume that since the board had been used, and I just replaced the memory and CPU, that this may have caused the initial boot failure. Before booting into Vista I first booted to my DOS bootable USB key and updated the BIOS to the latest version, then reset the BIOS configuration to defaults, and again made all the required changes, most importantly to restore the RAID drive configuration.

I booted into Vista Ultimate x64, waited a few minutes for the new drivers to load, and eventually the keyboard started working and I could login. The ATI control center application complained that there was no ATI driver installed, so I reinstalled the ATI driver, rebooted, and this time everything seemed fine. Not quite, Windows told me the hardware had changed and I had to reactivate. Activating over the internet failed, and I had to activate over the phone, that worked. I also noticed that Windows Update wasn’t working, the KB article for the error code told me to check the PC time. Since I had reset the BIOS without resetting the time, the time was off by years, on correcting the time WU started working again.

Now for the ultimate test, can the machine go to sleep? I press the sleep button and the machine sleeps, I touch the keyboard and the machine wakes up. I leave the machine idle for an hour, it goes to sleep, I touch the keyboard and the machine wakes up. Success!

There is one thing that is still not 100%, and this seems to be a problem on both the DG33TL and the DQ35JO; the case power light is not always on. E.g. after removing mains power and powering on the case power light will be on and stay on until the first sleep, and then the power light will turn off, and even resuming from sleep or rebooting will not turn the light back on.

Maybe I should have been more patient and ordered the Gigabyte GA-G33-DS3R instead, but for now I am happy.

Intel DG33TL motherboard

This article was originally posted here.

Introduction:

After my bad experience with the Abit F-I90HD motherboards, read about it
here, I purchased two Intel DG33TL motherboards.

Although these boards do not have HDMI onboard, they do have HDCP compliant DVI,
and by adding an ADD2 HDMI board you get HDMI and audio over HDMI.

The Good:

  • Onboard HDCP compliant DVI.
  • Intel ADD2 HDMI card support.
  • Vista installed very fast and with no problems.
  • The driver DVD that came with the board installs all devices that is not
    installed by Vista.

    It even lets you set your username and password and will automatically
    reboot and continue the installation after every driver.

The Bad:

  • The DVD installs the 5.x version audio driver, works fine, yet the Intel
    website lists the latest driver as 6.x.

    However the 6.x driver fails to install, reporting that the hardware is not
    supported.

    Intel support says the 6.x driver installed fine on their test system, and
    they recommended I wait for a new driver to be released, or I exchange the
    boards.

    I find it hard to believe Intel support, and I believe the website is
    incorrectly listing the 6.x driver as compatible with this board.

  • Intel Desktop Utilities sporadically reports 0.000V warning messages,
    and lists one source for a voltage reading as unknown.

    Intel support told me that Desktop Utilities is not supported on the 3x
    series boards, yet the DVD that came with the board installs Desktop
    Utilities, and the Desktop Utilities download page lists support for the 3x
    series boards.

    After pointing this out to Intel support, they recommended I reinstall the
    BIOS and the Desktop Utilities, made no difference.

    A new 0262 version BIOS was released that lists some corrections with the
    Media Engine, but this made no difference.

    Waiting for Intel support to respond, or for a new version of Desktop
    Utilities.

  • I purchased the

    Prolink PV-CH7315
    ADD2 card, but connecting the HDMI does indicate that
    there is a HDMI signal, but no picture on the television.

    The Intel GMA control application does list three outputs, monitor,
    television, and digital television, only monitor / VGA works.

  • The Intel 15.7.3 and 15.8 igdkmd32.sys and igdkmd64.sys GMA drivers and Vista SP1 are incompatible,
    the machine blue screen crashes when going to sleep.

    I tested this with Vista Ultimate x86 being upgraded to SP1, and a clean
    install of Vista Ultimate x64 with integrated SP1.

    I notified Microsoft of the issue during the Vista SP1 Beta, was told Intel
    would fix it before SP1 ships, yet the problem still exists even after SP1
    shipped and after the 15.8 GMA drivers shipped. The issue now appears to be
    documented in
    this KB
    article
    .

The Outcome:

  • I have been contacted by several readers that experience similar issues,
    I urge you to contact Intel support and notify Intel of the problems.
  • After several exchanges with Intel support I am still waiting for a new
    version of Desktop Utilities to solve the 0.000V alerts.
  • Intel removed the 6.x audio driver from the download site, and updated
    the 5.x driver, seems the 6.x driver was not supposed to be on the site.
  • I have not been able to get HDMI working with the Prolink card.
  • Waiting for new GMA drivers that do not bluescreen with Vista SP1, the
    issue is now documented in
    this KB
    article
    .

Links: