Advice needed - to rebuild or not

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Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Mon Jun 04, 2012 9:53 pm

I realize this isn't strictly a build question, but it kinda is. JAE, if you feel it needs to be moved, please do so.
I'm working on a machine I built for a friend about 4 years ago or so. It serves as a media center for him - at least it did until recently. The machine ran problem free for 3 years or so and then the friend got Uverse with DVR so it pretty much went unused for a year or so. You can maybe guess what happened, but I'll tell you anyways. During the course of that year, the hard drive appears to have been dying slowly such that when the cheap first year of Uverse expired and he decided to switch back to the DVR for OTA recording, it didn't work as expected, which is to say, at all.
I went to his house to check things out and the boot drive was going in and out of recognition in BIOS so I disconnected everything and brought it home. That was about 2 weeks ago.
In the meanwhile I've gotten a samsung F3 1tb to replace the failed 500gb maxtor and a copy of Windows 7 to replace Vista that was running on it. That's when the problems began. The windows 7 install wouldn't recognize the F3 at all - I thought it might be something with the weird Nvidia SATA drivers. So, I tried to install on a 320gb seagate I have and the installation would fail about halfway through. I finally ended up installing Vista 64 bit on the thing and that completed, but it managed to fail during one of its updates and borked everything over again. After restoring from a backup I'm back to having a clean install of vista and not much else. Updating windows 7 from within vista also failed. I made sure I was running the most up to date BIOS and I'm already on the newest. AHH!

This is probably a good time to go over the hardware that I'm fighting with. It's a MSI P6N-Platinum motherboard with the nvidia 650 SLI chipset with an intel pentium E2180 (newish conroe based S775) processor. I'm almost certain the board is the source of my frustration which is why I'm coming here. I'm trying to determine if and what I should replace on this build to get him back up and running with something that will last for a while - I mean, if he's already spending $200ish for the drive and software, I would hate to put something together that won't last at least a few more years.
Ideally the board would support the processor (duh) and DDR3 so I can upgrade him from the 2gb of DDR2 without spending money on memory that is obsolete. I was hoping to find a P45 board for cheap, but those seem to be mostly dried up for some reason. Newegg seems to have a whole bunch of micro ATX G41 based boards like this one: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6813130556
The problem with those is 1) I'm not familiar with the G41 chipset and its limitations and 2) it doesn't have the slots i need. I need 2 pci slots, pcie 16x for graphics and pcie 1x for another tuner card.
I found this over on Amazon and it seems like it might be a good fit: http://www.amazon.com/Intel-DP45SG-Extr ... B001BN3548
It seems to have the slots I need and being intel I would hope driver support is good.

Now that I think about it - it could be better or more cost effective to just replace the motherboard and processor with something more modern that could handle HTPC duty with the appropriate slots for tuners and wifi adapter.

So, that's where I'm at - thinking about replacing the mobo and getting some memory to get this build up and running on Windows 7 with the new drive with the hopes of getting a stable reliable machine that will take him down the road a few more years on HTPC duty. Does anyone have better suggestions for replacement motherboards or a strategy here?
If anyone has experience installing Windows 7 on this motherboard or similar I would love to hear those suggestions as well. I'm all ears with no pride on this one - I'm thoroughly stumped.
i7-3770K | Asus P8Z77-V LK | 8GB DDR3-1600 | HD5850 | 128GB 840 Pro | Samsung F3 1TB | U2412M | Define R4 | Seasonic 520W M12II | Win7 Pro x64.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Mon Jun 04, 2012 10:37 pm

Is that a single-slot graphics card or does the cooler cause it to take up two slots? If so, maybe he should get a $10 or $15 USB wifi adapter instead of a PCI card.
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It's water under the bridge now, but if he had a valid Vista 64-bit license, I probably wouldn't have shelled out for the Windows 7 upgrade.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 5:13 am

I have seen dozens of people wrongly buy new hardware based on their hunch that it's probably x that has gone wrong.

Have you swapped any hardware around yet? I would put the behaviour you described as a potential problem with one or more of the following:
  • PSU
  • RAM
  • SATA cable
  • Motherboard

Whilst it's EXTREMELY unlikely, I have finally seen what a dying-but-still-functional processor can do and it can include really weird behaviour too.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 11:42 am

First, this:

Chrispy_ wrote:Have you swapped any hardware around yet? I would put the behaviour you described as a potential problem with one or more of the following:
  • PSU
  • RAM
  • SATA cable
  • Motherboard

Then, if it really does come down to the motherboard, I wouldn't bother trying to rebuild the existing barebones provided your friend isn't totally cash-poor. Motherboard, modern quad-core CPU, and 4GB RAM at minimum, preferably 8GB since it's cheap right now. Once he gets into the mood to start backing up a BluRay collection into an XBMC library, he'll thank you that his transcoding times are not measured in days.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:14 pm

JAE - I might end up sticking with Vista for him if in fact this becomes a more expensive endeavor with hardware replacement - I bought the family 3 pack upgrade to use on one of my own machines, so the incremental cost for him isn't too great and I can keep the other licenses if need be. That seems like a good board if i need to go that direction and a USB wifi adapter would most likely meet the need as well as the graphics card is a two slot passive heatsink variety.
Chrispy_Unfortunately, due to the somewhat more "mature" platform of the system I don't have a lot of hardware around to troubleshoot with (memory, processors, etc.). As of last night I had restored an image of a clean vista install and gotten it to update a few times without locking up. If I can get it fully updated I'll be happy with where I'm at, buy a few more gigs of DDR2 for the thing and call it a day. I'll probably try to pull everything non-essential and go for one last shot at W7 as an upgrade, but I don't have high hopes.
I didn't try removing everything when I was trying to do the install initially for either vista or w7 and that's a bit of a rookie mistake for me - I guess the system running reliably (and installing Vista just fine 3.5 years ago) made me careless.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:56 am

Ah well.

Good luck. Once it's built, get the drivers and OS updated then leave it running prime95, furmark (or afterburner) and maybe copy and then move several gigs of random data into a temp folder just to stress the hard disk(s).

If it's going to go pop, it'll be when it's using everything all at once. Stress it like it will never be stressed again and hopefully any real problems will rear their heads at that point, rather than later when it's a PITA to diagnose again.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:43 am

I have an mATX G41 board that i'm pretty sure has all of those slots. It's a Gigabyte and OC's nicely on dual-cores with fsb's at 200 or 266.

As for W7 not installing, are you trying with both HDDs installed? I've never been able to get it installed unless I have only the target disk plugged in.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Sat Jun 09, 2012 12:34 am

Update on the situation. I've given up trying to bring the beast back from the dead. Every time I thought I had it licked it would turn around and refuse to boot into windows. That was vista because win7 refused to even complete installing and I can't in good conscience put xp on a machine that I won't be able to babysit to a certain extent (too many viruses/malware to fight off in my recent experience). So I let my friend know what he was going on and how I was sorry that it might cost more etc. and his response was along the lines of "I guess well just need to build a whole new one then!"
So, that changes things a bit. I have two options that I'm going to explore and this really is a build now. I can either put together a purpose built htpc for him with something like a dual core sandy bridge variant and associated motherboard utilizing integrated graphics assuming they're up to the task or I have a few htpc worthy video cards in a drawer. The other option and one that I've done a number of times with this friend is to upgrade my machine and use my parts to build him a new one at a nice discount. Win win. I think.
So, the all new system would probably look a lot like the CPU, mobo, and mem from the recent econobox guide so around $250 in parts all told. Would probably make a great system for that purpose, wouldn't use a lot of power, etc.
My current system is a lynnfield i7-860 on a p55 motherboard. I love my current setup and it has never left me wanting, but it's a few years old now and it's not getting any younger. Two places I'm struggling with going this option and I would be interested to hear opinions. First, this probably isn't ideal htpc hardware, even though I have been using it that way to great affect for a year or so. It's quad core with hyper threading running at 3ghz. Overkill for an htpc. That leads to the other issue which is replacing it. I almost have to get the i7-3770 to replace it - I'm addicted to those 8 graphs in task manager. Unfortunately that processor is over $300 and thats before getting a decent mobo to put it in.
I will probably end up giving him two options which I suppose means I need to figure out what a fair price would be for the i7 system. Yes a few years old but still extremely capable hardware.
Thoughts ? Suggestions?
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Fri Jun 15, 2012 1:47 pm

Alright - I've decided to get some new hardware to keep things moving along here - I just bought an Intel Core i3-2120 Sandy Bridge on special from Newegg and now i need to find a motherboard to match it and the existing components of the HTPC. The existing components that need home are: (1) PCI tuner card, (1) pci express tuner, (1) pci wifi card. It also needs to have digital audio output for the purpose of hooking up to a receiver - optical or coax should be OK. I'm trying to keep the price around $100, $120 max. I have found two candidates, but I admittedly haven't spent much time looking (it usually takes me weeks to determine which motherboard to go with if I'm building my own machine - I don't have that kind of time on this).

Option one - ASRock Z68 Extreme3 Gen3 for $115 shipped
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6813157271

Option two - Take a risk on an open box MSI Z68A-GD55 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel Z68 for $124 with shipping
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 813130606R

Other options? MicroATX is fine if I can get all the cards in - worst case I could get a USB wifi adapter if needed (or it could be built in too). I plan on using the integrated graphics of the CPU, but have discrete cards available if needed.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Sat Jun 16, 2012 8:51 am

Urgh, you're still throwing money at the situation without bothering to track down the cause?

I thought you said you'd given up trying to bring the old box back from the dead, yet here you are (unless I misread it) partway through spending $300+ on CPU/RAM/Board without even replacing the PSU which is (without testing) just as likely to be the cause of all your problems.

If you don't have the spare hardware to eliminate faulty items yourself, take it to a shop for your own sanity's sake.
I've diagnosed a dead PC due to PSU failure, and whilst a rare occurence it had taken out EVERYTHING plugged into it; Dead CPU/Mobo/RAM/Graphics/Drives.

EVERYTHING would include your new motherboard, RAM and i3 - for a start.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Sat Jun 16, 2012 11:51 pm

I appreciate your concern and I didn't make myself clear. I have tried a different psu and ram and hard drive and taken out everything unnecessary to try to get the thing stable under vista - w7 wouldn't even install. I don't know whether to blame the nvidia chipset or the processor but either way the thing eventually fails to boot after some update. I've restored from images more times than I care to remember and even if I could get it to boot again I can't trust it anymore. So, for me at least, that means new hardware as I don't have a spare processor or motherboard of that vintage to narrow it down any further. Rather than try to find a motherboard to work with the old processor I decided to bring everything more or less up to date. As I said, I ordered he processor that I think makes the most sense, now I'm trying to find a good motherboard to house it. I have 4gb of ddr3 to put in as well.

I'm curious if you've had a psu cause the kinds of problems that I've experienced - they don't feel like power related problems - random reboots, failure to post or boot to windows (ok, I guess I have that). This feels much more like incompatibility or memory problems to me (but it doesn't seem to be the memory either). Whats frustrating is that it ran vista just fine for about 3 years or so. I'm guessing there is some kind of conflict with the most recent updates (where everything seems to go wrong) and I don't see nvidia and Microsoft working too hard to resolve 650sli chipset incompatibility issues in vista!!

Thanks again for all your suggestions and if you have one for a decent and affordable board with the criteria I listed earlier I would really appreciate it.
i7-3770K | Asus P8Z77-V LK | 8GB DDR3-1600 | HD5850 | 128GB 840 Pro | Samsung F3 1TB | U2412M | Define R4 | Seasonic 520W M12II | Win7 Pro x64.
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Re: Advice needed - to rebuild or not

Postposted on Sun Jun 17, 2012 10:27 pm

So yet another update. I found a motherboard that checked all the right boxes for me in the price/feature/known decent brand categories. I ordered an ASUS P8H77-V LE (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6813131826) from Amazon this afternoon. It should be a good match to the SB i3 on its way from Newegg and the DDR3-1600 I have. I was trying to decide between Z68, Z77, and H77 chipsets and H77 seemed to bring the best of the things I cared about (overclocking won't be needed on this machine) while seeming to ensure the best compatibility and future expandability, should it ever be required. All this searching and the prospect of building a new machine next week really got me into the mood to build a machine for myself, but as little as I'm using my current machine it will probably be at least Haswell before I see myself doing that. That's not a bad thing, though - while I think Sandy and Ivy are pretty sweet, my little ole' Lynnfield is still more than meeting my needs.
i7-3770K | Asus P8Z77-V LK | 8GB DDR3-1600 | HD5850 | 128GB 840 Pro | Samsung F3 1TB | U2412M | Define R4 | Seasonic 520W M12II | Win7 Pro x64.
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