Author Archives: et4d

Lowendia review: Corsair Carbide Series 200R

Introduction

I moved to the PC from the Amiga in late 1994. For most of these years I didn’t care about the case. In stayed with the simplest cases, though once I chose one with a handle. It wasn’t until the last time I bought a PC, in mid-2009, that I tried to go for something better. Being the cheapskate that I am, I went with a case the local store suggested that wasn’t a known brand but was largely tool-less and with a removable drive cage, which I hoped would help make installing and changing hard drives easier, which was important to me since hard drive upgrades are the most common upgrade I do (the second being graphics cards).

When I got the PC I had a Radeon 3870 and two hard drives, a 250GB from the previous PC plus a 500GB one. I could fit them into the bottom two drive slots and the Radeon was against the top of the three drive slots in the cage. I then upgraded to a Radeon 5750 and got another 500GB drive. That was an okay combination too, because the 5750 was a shorter card.

Then I won a Radeon 5850 and my life got complicated. The card and the hard disk could fit together, just barely. Getting them to co-exist meant long minutes of trying to push the connectors, disconnect and reconnect, move cables out of the way… In short, a little bit of hell. It was a one time experience I forgot about for a while, but then last year I got an SSD, and had to deal with it again, and recently my PC stopped booting, and I thought it might be the 5850, which occasionally started with an awful noise from it fan, so with some effort I took it out and replaced it with the 5750, then found out it was the RAM, but I couldn’t face putting the 5850 back in.

When the Carbide 200R reviews started pouring in it was clear that it’s a good low cost case with ample space for graphics cards, so it became an obvious upgrade target.

Moving to the new case

The Carbide 200R is a tool-less case, but it still requires a screwdriver for installation. First of all, I couldn’t open any of the thumbscrews without one. Then there are the screws for the PSU and motherboard. Once you’ve loosened all the thumbscrews and installed the PSU and motherboard it should be tool-less forever though.

The first thing I did was install the PSU. I did some reading about that the night before, and decided to install it with the fan facing down towards the filter that’s there. It’s the way things are meant to be, although it turned out to be the wrong choice, more about this later.

The second thing I did was install all my hard drives: an SSD and 500GB, 500GB, 250GB drives. The old case had three 3.5″ spaces in its disk cage, which were used by the SSD (with adaptor) and two 500GB drive, and the 250GB with an adaptor in a 5.25″ bay. On the 200R it was amazingly easy to insert the 3.5″ drives. The 2.5″ SSD was a trifle harder to put in, but not really any trouble. There were two minor issues: one of the drives wasn’t held perfectly in place, and moved when I hooked it to the SATA and power cables. It sits well, but when enough pressure is applied it moves. The other issue was that a disk in the bottom slot makes it hard to press one of the latches that opens the front panel, something which I found about later when I tried it, so I moved the drive up a slot (which was very easy to do). In retrospect it’s easy to use the latches on the back side, which don’t have this problem, so I don’t need to be worried about adding another drive.

The reason I wanted to open the front panel was that I wanted to install my DVD and Blu-Ray drives. Removing the cover allows to easily remove the blank covers to insert the drives. Inserting them was as effortless as inserting the 3.5″ drives. The front panel also has ventilation on the sides, with a filter, which means that it’s a good idea to remove it occasionally to clean that filter. I’m sure I’ll forget to do it.

Now it was time to put the motherboard in. There was a slight issue with the alignment of the ports with the back panel, but the misalignment was small and when I tried a USB cable I was able to plug it into all USB ports. The motherboard (a Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD4) was attached to the case using 5 screws, as opposed to 6 on the previous case, because one of the holes had a mounting that stuck through it instead of offering a place for a screw, but that felt good enough. The top screws were a little harder to get in than I’d like, or than they were to take out in the old case. It feels like there’s a bit less clearance there. Not a big issue though.

Hooking the cables for power, LED’s, etc., was easy but I think it would have been less messy if they were all in a sleeve instead of separate cables. Hooking the sound and fans was also easy. Unfortunately the case only includes a USB 3 cable to the front ports, with no adaptor for USB 2, and my motherboard only has USB 2, so I’m left without functioning front USB ports. (My next planned upgrade is a motherboard, so that should sort out this problem.)

The trouble started when I tried connecting the power cables from the PSU. The large one went in without trouble after getting routed from the back, but the 8-pin one couldn’t fit through the small gap at the top (which might be meant for routing or might not be), and probably wouldn’t have reached the socket even if it did. Routing from the front would have meant it would hug the graphics card and prevent me from putting another one in. As a result I had to flip the PSU so the fan faces up. The large cable was too short to go through the back then, but I was able to route both comfortably on the front of the motherboard. Since even more modern motherboards (like the one I plan to buy) have these connectors at the top I guess this will remain a problem, but it’s possible that a better PSU than my Topower SilentEZ would have longer cables.

The SATA and power cables went to the back, since the three 3.5″ drives are hooked through there, which means a little bit of mess at the back, but better there than at the front. There’s enough space there that this isn’t a problem. Inserting the graphics card (5750 for now) was simple, just a matter of removing two thumb screws.

That was that, and I assembled everything back in. I discovered that one of the rubber fan mounts at the top fell off while I was assembling the PC, and fiddled with it for some seconds to get it back in.

Surprisingly, the PC came back alive as good as before (well, I haven’t checked the 5.25″ drives yet). I started mining bitcoins just recently, and the 5750 now runs at 65c as opposed to 70c before, which is nice.

General impression and conclusion

I like the 200R. Even though it’s just 1cm deeper and 2cm wider than my previous case it feels a lot more roomy. The drive bays are a joy to work with, and although some of the cables and routing was less than perfect, it’s still pretty good. I also like the look of it.

There are a lot of places to add fans, which I don’t care that much about, and I remember that one of the reviews said that adding a fan didn’t help much. I think that the down side of this added ventilation is that more dust can get into the case. I guess I’ll see what happens.

I’m happy with this case so far.

Images

Old case:

oldold-back

200R:

200R200R-back

Links

Carbide 200R manufacturer page

List of reviews (not comprehensive, google for more): Anandtech, X-bit labs, Hexus.net, Kitguru, HardOCP, Tweaktown, Guru3D, The Tech Report.

Syncing Outlook contacts with Android is easy

I don’t use Outlook myself, but a family member wanted his contacts transferred to his new tablet. It took quite a bit of googling to find the easy solution. That solution is called Sony PC Companion. It was obviously meant for Sony Android devices, but it works well as a generic solution. Just install it and tell it to transfer contacts to Gmail and it will do that, including photos. That’s something that exporting to a CSV file and importing to Gmail can’t do.

After transferring the contacts the tablet only got part of them, so I installed Synker on the tablet. Running it got all the contacts copied to the tablet.

So that’s it. Easy, right?

Debugging a program that crashed on another PC

Debugging crashes is always a hassle. It helps if you can see where the crash happened, and I found it non-trivial until I managed to get all the details. So here’s the short of it, and hopefully it will help someone else one of these days (or me when I forget). Note that it’s assumed that the program was compiled with debugging information.

  • Assuming the program is a 32-bit one, open Task Manager from C:\Windows\SysWOW64\TaskMgr.exe.
  • Select the process, right click and choose ‘Create Dump File’.
  • When the message appears, select the path to the dump file, copy it and past into Windows Explorer.
  • Copy the dump file onto a system with Visual Studio.
  • What you also need is the executable which crashed as well as a pdb file for it, and source code which largely matches that.
  • Open the project in Visual Studio.
  • Drag the dump file into Visual Studio.
  • Click ‘Debug with Native Only’.
  • You will now be able to go over the threads and call stacks.

Readyboost helps even with 4GB of RAM

My wife’s laptop (an Inspiron 1720) sits near the living room, a perfect spot to keep an eye on the kids, and so it ends up being used by both of us. I browse using Firefox, with tons of open tabs, and my wife browses using IE. Browsing these days takes a lot of RAM, and it’s not at all hard to saturate the 3.5GB of RAM accessible to the 32-bit Windows 7 (out of 4GB in the machine).

When more than 3.5GB is in use, the laptop starts going into slideshow mode, when switching tabs, programs or even using the OS can take long seconds. That pain led me to consider various options, such as installing the 64-bit version of the OS or getting an SSD. I eventually remembered Readyboost, which can use a USB Flash drive to cache disk accesses, and so has a good potential to speed up systems with disk thrashing, for example due to virtual memory use.

We had a 4GB Flash drive that wasn’t in use, so I plugged that in and configured it. I’ve read a lot of comments of how Readyboost is only really useful on systems with little RAM (1GB and under), but since we started using it the laptop has become a lot more responsive. We no longer feel the need to shut down applications or reboot. It’s of course not as good as having extra RAM, but it’s a whole lot better than before.

I’m sure that a RAM upgrade (impractical in this case) would be the best, and an SSD could be a good solution (I’m considering it, though might go for a Seagate SSHD), but as a cheap upgrade (free in this case) this is a surprisingly good solution.

GMG Capsule, Securom and Deus Ex DRM freedom

Following a GOG conversation, I decided to try to see if I could get Deus Ex GOTY, which I have at GMG, installed as a DRM-free game.

I’ve read that GMG uses Securom for all games, and it looks like this is the case. Downloading Deus Ex on my PC it asked for an unlock when it ran. I copied the entire game directory to my laptop, which doesn’t even have Capsule installed, then downloaded and installed New Vision. I had to delete DeusEx.ini and User.ini to get the game to run, but once I did that it ran without a problem.

So there you have it, a DRM-free copy of Deus Ex downloaded from GMG. Not as trivial as getting one from GOG, but if you intend to install New Vision it’s not really any more work. You have to have Capsule installed to download and install the game, but it’s not necessary to run it later, and the copy can be backed up easily.

Green Man Gaming’s Capsule and moving games to another PC

I bought LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 on Green Man Gaming. I wanted to install it on my HTPC, which has a slightly erratic WiFi connection because of its location, and apparently Green Man Gaming’s Capsule, it’s download client, didn’t take well to that, reporting errors in the download without giving me a clear idea whether it’s planning to fix them.

So I decided to download it on my own PC and copy it there. Capsule downloads a zip file of the game, and that’s easy to copy, but it didn’t recognise that I copied it, and still continued to report errors and continued to download over it, even though it said there was 0.1GB left. Unzipping using Windows didn’t work well, and unzipping with IZarc wasn’t perfect either (though a little better). I ended up installing on my PC and copying the directory over.

When I ran the game Securom asked for a code. I ran the game on my PC and there it showed me the code, which I copied to the HTPC and it worked.

All in all it took me quite some time to get this to work, but it’s really not that bad. Capsule could be improved a little, but I imagine that for DRM free games there will be less hassle to copy over, and in any case it’s not like Steam which prevent running the client on two PC’s at the same time, and the game doesn’t need Capsule running in the background.

(As far as terms of use are concerned, GMG isn’t better than Steam, for example the terms say that a game can only be installed on one PC. I hate all these petty limitations which often conflict with normal, legitimate use. But at least technically GMG is less limiting than Steam.)

Review note: Logitech MK220 keyboard + mouse combo

I posted a while back about my HTPC. I thought about reviewing the various components, but of course I won’t get around to doing real reviews, so I decided to post short notes about them instead.

The Logitech MK220 is a wireless keyboard and mouse combo. The keyboard is small, rectangular and flat, so fits well on a narrow shelf, but it also has full size keys and a numeric keypad (but not a standard arrangement arrow keys and home/end, etc.). I won’t say that it’s an extremely comfortable keyboard, but it serves its purpose, and it’s not that bad. The mouse is a simple one.

I’ve used several wireless Microsoft combos and mice, and never had any luck using them at a range of over a few tens of centimetres. I tried one of them with the HTPC but it just didn’t work. This Logitech combo works well at two metres and more, so I can easily control the HTPC from the sofa.

The Red Queen of Oz adventure game Kickstarter

I interviewed Bryan Weigele when he first ran the Kickstarter project for The Red Queen of Oz graphic novel. That one failed, but a later try was quite a success, and as he said in that review, his plan has always been to create an adventure game. Now the The Red Queen of Oz: Two Fates – An Adventure Game project is up. It will be an adventure game with turn based combat, which I think is cool (but it’s optional in case you don’t like it).

Lowendia.com now registered at NameSilo

I’ve been moving my domains out of GoDaddy. I don’t like the “get a special deal just today” kind of sales, nor all the products being pushed at me. For my main domain, et3d.com, this also meant getting more e-mails, because GoDaddy’s forwarding has spam filtering, and it lost me e-mails.

Internet.bs is cheap and has a simple interface, which I liked. Unfortunately when I tried to move lowendia.com there I didn’t get one of the mails I needed, and the e-mail support I got was totally incompetent, so I asked for a refund (which annoyingly I got as credit, although I can live with that).

After a bit of research I decided to try NameSilo. The transfer was easy, and it even set the name servers to what they were set at GoDaddy, which was cool. The service itself seems quite limited. No e-mail forwarding, and I couldn’t find how to set advanced things like MX records. Luckily I don’t need all that right now.