Tempus fugit

A wall clock
Time flies by when I’m the driver of an Nvidia2 chipset…

Grrr…! (That’s an indication that I’m slightly irritated, and not my name — Jane and her family call me “Grrr” — with three Rs, if you please.) My PC clock is running fast again.

Although, oddly, not all the time. Sometimes it will gain 8-10 seconds every minute, then I’ll reboot and it’s fine. I’ve had this problem before, and as far as I can recall I had to do a full Windows reinstallation to fix it.

I ran Windows’ System File Checker (sfc /scannow) which restored a few DLLs. But that didn’t fix the problem.

I suspect that it has something to do with my chipset drivers (the software that makes my motherboard work properly with Windows XP) but I have the latest ones installed … so I went to the land of the Internet forums and user groups and investigated.

After much searching on Google I discovered this thread on the Nvidia HQ forum which suggests that the problem may have something to do with the NForce2 chipset (Tom’s Hardware explains it nicely: if the CPU (processor) is the brain of the PC system, then the chipset is its heart).

One suggestion was to disable APIC in my BIOS but my PC wouldn’t even boot up after that, so I restored it. (For Dummies translation: One suggestion was to change a setting on the computer’s secret settings panel, but it didn’t work.)

I tried reinstalling the chipset drivers for my system … but because I was lazy I didn’t uninstall the old ones first and tried to install them over-the-top of the current installation. I got as far as installing the audio drivers when the screen clicked off as the system was involuntarily rebooting itself. Anyway, it seems to have done the trick. Or at least, my system clock is working fine now.

Or it could have something to do with my having modified the Internet Time Synchronization settings in the Registry.

But I think it’s the drivers.

Tip: always use the latest drivers

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum
Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum

It just goes to show that you should always keep your device drivers up to date! That was my task this lunchtime.

Having installed the drivers that came with my Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum everything appeared to be working fine. Listening to music in WinAmp everything sounded lovely: responsive, crystal clear and other phrases that you might read in a Hi-Fi magazine.

Battlefield 2 was another matter. BF2 is the only game so far that has been developed specifically with the X-Fi soundcard in mind:

Digital Illusions, Electronic Arts and Creative Labs worked closely together for six months to optimise Battlefield 2’s audio engine for Sound Blaster X-Fi. The Digital Illusions coders were among the very first engineers outside of Creative Labs to get access to Xtreme Fidelity technology, well before details of the new sound card were even released to the press…

Battlefield 2 benefits from super-accurate sound placement, stunning audio quality, and powerful audio acceleration when you have a Sound Blaster X-Fi in your system.

I fired up BF2, clicked on the Options page and selected Creative X-Fi as my audio renderer (the other options were ‘software’ or ‘hardware’) clicked Apply and I was dumped rather unceremoniously back on my Windows desktop. A couple more attempts resulted in exactly the same response. After a quick search online for a solution, I headed over to the Creative Support website and downloaded the latest drivers and installed them.

For those who aren’t quite sure what device drivers are here’s what the ever-wonderful Wikipedia says:

A device driver, often called a driver for short, is a computer program that enables another program, typically, an operating system (OS) (e.g., Windows, Linux, FreeBSD) to interact with a hardware device. A driver is essentially an instruction manual that provides the operating system with the information on how to control and communicate with a particular piece of hardware. In layman’s terms, a driver is an important, vital piece to a program application; the main ingredients of the system.

So, it should be fairly obvious then, if your device drivers are out of date then you can’t expect everything to work as well as it should.

What I do wish, however, is that Creative improved the information on its website about its latest drivers and applications. It’s not the most intuitive of layouts for those of us who simply want to download the latest files and update our systems. While the ATi Radeon support site presents one file (the latest one) the Creative site has a list of umpteen files. Do I download both driver updates, 0003 and 0004? Or are the updates from 0003 also contained in 0004? Who knows, because it doesn’t make this clear! Rant over.

I downloaded 0004 file in the hope that it did contain the 0003 updates too. Installed. Rebooted, so that Windows could load these newly updated files as it started up, and ran BF2 again.

I can happily report that this time BF2 was willing to accept the X-Fi settings and that the sound quality is incredible. Sitting at my desk, with my 6.1 surround sound speakers about me it feels as though I’m emersed in the game environment. I can hear computer generated characters moving about behind me. The sound of my character’s feet walking or running on gravel sounds remarkably different to when my character is walking on grass, or tarmac.

BF2 is a game that makes me nervous anyway, it’s an all-action FPS with alot going on. Now there is so much more information from the sound that it makes the game so more immediate and intuitive.

I’m still not very good at it, however.

What is a graphics card?

My old graphics card is lying on the top of the PC case. You can see that the gold bit connects to the computer’s motherboard, while the blue socket is where you plug the monitor.

In response to the person who said to me, “Excuse my ignorance, but what is a graphics card? What programs do you use it with?” A graphics card (sometimes also called a graphics or video adapter) is the bit of the computer that you plug the monitor into. You can’t work without it. Well, you can, but it would be like working in the darkness.

In human terms, then, the graphics card is a bit like the visual cortex within your brain, which takes the information that it is fed and outputs it in a way that is most helpful to the user. On a computer the processor passes information to the graphics card which interprets that information and passes the image to the monitor. Your eyes take in light from the monitor, which is converted to an electrical signal which is then passed to the visual cortex which interprets it and you can see the image on the screen. Playing a very fast computer game, such as Battlefield 2 this all happens very, very quickly. Modern graphics cards are typically handing millions of instructions per second.

I hope that helps.

A sound problem (easy edition)

My soundcard isn’t working properly. Whenever I play an MP3 it sounds like I’m playing it on an old record player: it pops and crackles while I’m typing. It is very annoying.

I suspect that it’s to do with the hardware drivers — that’s the special software that allows the my soundcard to commuicate with the rest of my PC. It’s so bad that I’m going to have to wipe my hard disk clean and start again. AGAIN!

PC Problems for Dummies

My good friend David Meldrum complained about my last-but-one post about my PC problems. He wrote in a comment:

In future, can you also post an alternative entry on topics like this in a ‘for dummies’ style? I undersood nothing there… I want to join you on the rollercoaster of emotions that is your life with your computer, but feel unable to do so just now, due to being a bit thick.

Ok. Basically what happened was that my computer was reporting that my processor (CPU) was running at the wrong speed. That’s a bit like buying a Ferarri and discovering that it has the top speed of a Reliant Robin!

I tweaked a couple of settings ‘under the bonnet’. At one point the computer didn’t start at all. I got worried.

After much geeky faffing about I discovered that the problem was that the CPU was overheating due to a dusty heatsink and fan (the bits that try to keep the processor cool). A bit like when a car engine overheats the car doesn’t run quite so smoothly.

I cleaned the fan. That fixed the problem. I was happy.

I hope that helps.