Yes, I know, it’s a popular sentiment. But I speak as an expert, more or less, an let me tell you that the feelings normal people have about computers only count as moderate distaste compared to the deep-seated loathing felt by those of us who truly know the beasts.
This latest outbreak of antipathy was brought about by the graphics card in my home PC. I’ve had the computer nearly four years, and I’ll probably buy a new one later this year, when Vista is nicely established and seriously beastie Core 2 Duo processors have come down in price a bit more.
So naturally, the graphics card decided to start playing up. I think it was offended by being asked to work a bit harder since I bought that new flat panel. Either that, or it just got tired. It was just a minor problem at first – a few desktop icons disappearing, the odd pixel going off. Then I started getting odd trails when scrolling web pages. Mutter.
I decided it was time to find a new graphics card. The old one was an Nvidia 4xxx, and force of habit made me look for another one. Now I don’t play games on the machine, I don’t do 3D work, and video isn’t an issue, so I didn’t need to look at the latest models. Good thing too, as I’d rather not spend a lot of money on a PC that will be replaced before too long.
A bit of shopping around and searching led me to order an Nvidia 6200 card from those nice Dabs people. It was one of their “value” range rather than a leading brand, but for my purposes one card is much the same as another, and cost around £36 including delivery, which wasn’t too bad.
I got it home yesterday, and as I hinted yesterday, I tried to install it. I did everything you’re supposed to do with these cards:
- Uninstall drivers
- Shut down
- Take out old card
- Insert new card
- Start up
- Install drivers
And that’s where it went a bit wrong. I got the latest certified drivers from Nvidia, and started the installer. It unpacked the files, and started to install. There’s a point in the installation where the screen goes blank for a moment before reappearing as the drivers are loaded. Well, the blank bit worked. Then the screen went into standby, which generally means it’s not getting a signal from the graphics card. After waiting a while to see if it was just thinking about it, I had to switch off the computer and restart.
On restarting, it got as far as the Windows XP logo screen before the screen went blank again.
Now what the average non-technical user would make of this, I don’t know. I knew I had a good chance of getting it to load by using one of XP’s startup options: Last Known Good, which rolls back to the last settings that “worked”. By “worked”, it means that the user was able to log on. So if your problem happened after logging on, this won’t help. But in my case it was just what I needed.
I tried installing again, but the results were the same. Having spent a fair amount of time already, I decided to revert to the old card and do some research. After the usual series of reboots, the computer came back to life, albeit with a slightly scrambled graphics card.
I was able to get the desktop icons to behave better by taking the colour depth down a level. but I was still getting odd streaks and missing pixels.
A bit of Googling and reading led me to the theory that my elderly PC didn’t have enough power to operate the card, which made some kind of sense.
So, this afternoon, I had another go. I decided to sacrifice my fancy Audigy 2 sound card, which comes with an external box full of ports. I’m sure that makes moderate to large demands on the power supply just being there, and it’s overkill, really. The only drawback of removing that is that my external hard drive was connected by Firewire to one of the Audigy’s ports. But it wasn’t a major problem as I had a Firewire card lurking in an old PC that’s been gathering dust in another room.
So, I uninstalled the Audigy drivers, shut down, removed the sound card and put the Firewire card in its place. Next problem: if I wanted sound, I’d have to change settings in the BIOS, which is accessed by pressing F2 as the PC starts. That’s not normally a problem, but it seems my wireless keyboard won’t talk to the computer at that stage.
Fortunately, I had a normal keyboard lying around, and used that to change the settings. Once I had the computer running, it was time to try the new video card again. This time, I decided to avoid the fun of reinstalling the drivers and just swap the cards. This isn’t the recommended way, but I thought it was worth a try.
Shut down, changed cards, restarted. Windows made the usual “found new hardware” mutterings, but didn’t ask for drivers or for a reboot. It also insisted that it had a vanilla VGA card.
I suspected at this point that all it needed was yet another reboot, but before I did that, I had a look in Device Manager, which happily told me that the only graphics card it knew about was an Nvidia 6200, which was encouraging. So I rebooted, and up it came in the low resolution setting I was expecting to see. I logged in, and then had no trouble setting the display to the optimum settings for my flat panel.
And now it’s working: no missing icons, no odd streaks, no funny pixels. I must have spent around four hours on what should have been a nice simple operation.
And that’s what makes me hate the things. Don’t even start me on the problems I have to fix at work…
 The word is derived from X – an unknown quantity and spurt – a drip under pressure
 I’ve got certifications, even
 Can’t quite recall the exact model
 If I was after games performance, it would be a different story…
 For an arbitrarily “aaarrrgh” value of “fun”
 Without reconnecting all my USB devices, to save a bit of time