May 2009 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

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  5. May
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  12. December

Graphics Card & Modem Card Fail (25th May 2009)

My PC was failing to boot today. Called a local PC repairer and described the symptoms. It was emitting one long beep, then three short beeps. This means the graphics are faulty.

He came over the same day and swapped out the graphics card for a really old spare he had. It now boots fine. So now I just need to buy a new graphics card.

Failure to Boot (28th May 2009)

The PC now cycles through the below sequence a few times, then goes no further:

  1. Power on.
  2. Fans spin up.
  3. Reads all drives.
  4. Single, normal beep.
  5. Resets.

Repairer talked me through the checks he would have made. We got to the stage of unplugging the peripheral cards to see which was faulty. This looked like a two-handed job, so I’d call him back when it was done.

Strangely, it would only boot up when the modem card was removed. A card we don’t even use, since the Internet plugs into our network card. This means I can simply unplug it and continue working, which is a neat and simple fix.

Bought New Graphics Card (3rd June 2009)

After much hunting and being outbid in the final seconds on eBay, eventually got an nVidia GeForce 6600 for £30. I had asked the seller to offer a Buy it Now after my bidding woes and he agreed. It should be here in a few days.

Hopefully it will have better OpenGL support. The new GTA 2 level editor and the newlevel viewer are using that. The viewer ran deathly slow and was completely untextured. Even the most chaotic scenes in GTA 2 run smooth as silk at 1600×1200. It even ran normal scenes in GTA 3 nicely.

So, my feeling is that OpenGL sucks at some level.

Received New Graphics Card (5th June 2009)

Well-wrapped in cardboard and a sheet of those plastic air bubble things. It has an on-board fan a 4-pin power plug.

Plugged it in, turned it on and jumped through the New Hardware Detected! hoops. It appeared to hang for several minutes while a spyglass orbited over an orange folder. It was only by looking at the lights on my modem that I figured it was downloading drivers without a progress bar. No way to know that from the UI, which looked entirely like it had stalled whilst searching for drivers in an unresponsive online database, though.

Anyway, eventually got those installed. Vaguely recall Device Manager saying these were the something like 17x.xx. Driver Cleaner has deprived you of precise trivia, in this case. The important thjing is, stuff doesn’t work quite right.

Downloaded latest drivers (185.85) and…stuff still doesn’t work. This should have been a modest but useful step up from the nVidia 6200, which had worked fine except with the new editor prototypes.

So I entered the pit of nVidia driver hell.

Erasure! (7th June 2009)

On the 2nd day (yes, day!) I installed and ran a utility called Driver Sweeper to ensure all traces of a previous driver had been removed. This utility erased the entire NVIDIA folder, including all my screenshots and notes of application incompatibility from other drivers I’d tried!!

It also removed the installers for several drivers I had downloaded but not yet even installed. These had been recommended on the nVidia forum or by the websites of computer repairers. Hours and hours of searching followed by even more hours and hours of downloaded.

Waste. Of. Time.

Catastrophic Advice

One guide recommended updating the chipset drivers. A utility called CPU-Z told me mine were ALi/ULi, which apparently has something to do with nVidia. The guide recommendeds using the most recent version, regardless of the chipset. So that’s what I installed.

The installer says it will figure out what your system needs to have installed. The list had 1 item, which was ticked and said ULi PCI to AGP Controller. So that’s what I installed.


There’s a lot of rebooting I haven’t been telling you about. Usually restarted me at 640×480×16. Usually I could drag the slider to the right number of pixels in Display Properties and set the colour depth again. 1,600×1,200×32 ftw, imho.

But this time, it was 640×480×4 with 20-pixel-wide bands of dappled inverted and dead colour running vertically across the entire screen. NOOOOO!!

Thankfully I had the initiative to use Device Manger, open the System devices branch and open the ULi PCI to AGP Controller. From here I used Roll Back Driver. After yet another restart, the banding was gone and I could select sane display modes.


Looking in Device Manager it says the thing is ALi, not ULi. So why did the installer install anything?!

Workable…Kinda (8th June 2009)

Eventually I found an adequate level of brokenness using the 94.24 drivers to do a bit of work and gaming:

Runs fine.
GTA 2 Level Editor
Runs fast but has red flickering above all ground-level surfaces.
Windows Media Player
Blank, green screen.


Back to the Future (8th June 2009)

Eventually I gave up trying to make this card play ball. Replaced it with the ancient ATi card the computer repairer had lent me. The drivers had been found and installed automatically. It worked immediately this time, so I guess its drivers were still lying dormant somewhere it re-activated them. Clever thing.

This is a 128MB card while the GeForce 6 series cards were 256MB. Yet this seems almost as fast as the 6200 when it worked perfectly and displays the levels perfectly, unlike the flickering red mess of the 6600.

Wasting £30 on a card I can’t use is bitterly disappointing. But I can buy this card from the PC repairer for £5. That’s a bargain for something which actually works! (I don’t play 21st-Century games on the PC.)

All I can conclude is that ATi know what they are doing better than nVidia and the Internet combined.

History of System Upgrades

This PC was delivered to us in October 2001, with this original specification:

Original System
Price £1,043
Motherboard Asus A7A266 (266MHz AGP Pro/4×)
CPU AMD Athlon 1400XP
Memory 512MB DDR SDRAM
Graphics 64MB nVidia GeForce 3
Hard Drive 60GB
Monitor LG Flatron 915FT Plus 19″

During its 8 years of service so far, we’ve replaced:

Replaced Components
Memory 512MB DDR SDRAM
Graphics 256MB nVidia GeForce 6200
256MB nVidia GeForce 6600
128MB ATi Radeon 9200SE
Hard Drive 120GB

Reunion with Evan (24th May 2009)

Quite out of the blue, I got a text on 20th May 2009. Didn’t give his name to start with, so I asked who he was. It was Evan, one of my best friends from Calthorpe Park School!

We did a 20-mile cycle ride to get the “personal challenge” part of our Trident certificates. This was about 8 years ago!

We arranged to meet at a somewhat local pub called de Havilland Arms. I had a couple of double Bacardi and Coke. It’s the tasty way to get tipsy!™ Evan had a couple of pints.

We did a bit of reminiscing about old times. But for the most part we talked about what we’d been up to for all these years. Work, movies, TV, women and friends…a pleasingly normal conversation.

It felt just like old times. Times I had almost forgotten.

Cycling with Ladia (22nd May 2009)

Decided to go for a long ride around Pontail, Pyestock and take in the view across Farnborough Airport. One my way down from that hill, I saw someone who I thought I recognised. He caught my eye at the same time and slowed, so that confirmed my suspicion.

“Hi, are you…Gary?” I enquired.

In a friendly and distinctively Eastern European accent, he denied this. I explained I hadn’t seen this person in a long time and that he was English, so clearly this was my mistake. “It’s fine,” he reassured me.

He was kitted out in professional-looking mountain bike gear. I asked him: “Are you in training for an event?” Seeming a little surprised, he said “No…are you in training for an event?” I laughed and said “Look at my bike! I’m not in training for anything.”

He glanced around my bike, from missing front mudguard to exposed cables and mismatched tyres. “Ah,” he grinned, “now I see that.”

We decided to ride together so I could show him some interesting tracks. He lives in Farnham and likes to explore the surrounding area. Indeed, he was several miles from home already. Apparently he once rode 180km to Oxford and back some time ago!

We were out riding for a couple of hours, from mid-afternoon to early evening. The main places I showed him were:

I rode home along the towpath.

100 Minute Cycle (8th May 2009)

Intended to ride a few laps around my local woods then come home. But it was such a fine evening that after I carried on riding.

Heading Out

Used the roads to reach Crookham Wharf on Basingstoke Canal. The approach to it is really narrow and bumpy in places, with a steep downhill leading to a long, grinding uphill section. It’s a relief when you enter the carpark!

Followed the towpath away into the countryside. I was trying to find the path to the shore of Tundry Pond, which I had completely missed last time. After quite a while I started to wonder whether this was the right way.

Then, as I rode out from under a bridge, I spotted the country house which overlooks the pond. There’s a long way between them so the bridge I needed was quite a way further on. I reached it in the end.

Taking in the View

A couple were playing fetch with their pet dogs. I took in the view and their laughter for a bit, then headed down to the towpath. I carried on to the Barley Mow to see whether approaching it from that way would be faster. (There are smooth roads from my home to that quay.)

Alternate Route Back Home

It took about 10 minutes to get there from the pond. Clouds of midges (or something like that) were hovering in the evening sunlight. I resorted to riding with a hand in front of my face, peering between my fingers with one eye!

Forgot to time how long it took to get back on the roads from there. It was about 40 minutes from home to the pond via roads, wharf and towpath. It seemed much less than that coming back via towpath, Barley Mow and the smoother roads.

Comparison of Routes

You could ride back the whole way along the towpath to see them and other sights, such as rolling pastures and the derelict WWII fortifications. You would also avoid the evil roads but it’s a long, winding and rattly ride.

Bicycle Puncture Repaired (2nd May 2009)

A lame thing about riding a bicycle off-road is getting slow punctures. It was some hours after my long ride to nowhere that dad mentioned my rear tyre was flat.

Hadn’t noticed it whilst riding. Thought the ride back home was a harder slog than usual but figured that was due to my injuries.

The Repair

Managed to remove the tyre and inner tube from the rim by hand without unbolting the wheel.

Using water from a nearby bucket, I to tried and find the leak. Could hear it find but nothing was bubbling as I ran my finger over the rubber. Eventually realised I had the direction of the sound correct but the leak was 180° away, on the other side of the tube. About 26″ away!

Found plenty of repair kits in the silver box by the big compressor in dad’s home workshop. One already had an open glue so I used that and an opened tape of patches.

The Reward

Dad was coming back from work with pizza, so I took a quick ride down to the woods. Rode over some bumpy gravel, some roots and did a few ditch crossings. All seemed fine and it was nearly 6pm, so I decided to head home.

Was all packed up and ready to eat just as the pizza was being served up. I had a foil bag of spicey chicken wings with lashings of barbeque sauce washed down by a glass of Pepsi Max. Yummy!