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Thread: My upgrade




  1. #1
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    Default My upgrade

    I have been considering an SSD upgrade, as I'm sure most have. I have been running a Core2 Q6600 on an nForce 680i SLI for nearly three years now. The platform as a whole hasn't been perfect, but it has been quite good.

    The problem?

    The 680i does not support AHCI. Despite some sites claims that AHCI does not impact performance, I wanted to have the option. Also, I'm more inclined to believe sites that do more thorough testing. Additionally, I do get bitten by the "upgrade bug" and have a desire to upgrade more than "just" my hard drive. :)

    There are obviously a couple of potential solutions. First, upgrade the entire platform. Second, add a SATA controller with AHCI.

    When considering a system upgrade, it really looked like the cost would quickly ramp up. Motherboard, CPU, and 8GB of RAM would add up to a hefty sum. I wanted to ensure that the CPU would be at least as fast as what I have, and preferably be faster. The Phenom II 955 seemed a good candidate. The Athlon II models seemed faster in some things, but not faster across the board. The Intel P55 platform seems fast, but it would be slightly more expensive and also... incomplete? It's PCIe configuration seems like it intentionally cripples the platform. The X58 costs significantly more. I also wanted to go with 8GB because that is what I have now. I do run virtual machines using VirtualBox, and the extra RAM is nice.

    So, I started looking at the second option. The best choice appears to be Asus' U3S6. It adds USB 3.0 (beyond just AHCI via SATA 6G controller), and is only $30. The card has a limited selection of "compatible" motherboards, but people have reported success getting this card working on other motherboards.

    The challenge of add-in cards is that they tend to block the fan of dual-slot video cards. The U3S6 is 4.8" long, and that definitely overlaps the fan on my GTS 250. So...

    The Radeon 5770 seems to be a good upgrade from the GTS 250, and there are models that have the ATI reference cooler with the fan at the end of the card. Some measurements and estimates from online photos show that the U3S6 shouldn't interfere with the fan.

    Total cost for the XFX XXX 5770 (which includes BattleForge) and Asus U3S6? $200. That's less than what 8GB of decent DDR3 memory would cost me, and on the whole, it should give me a bigger boost in performance than upgrading the CPU, motherboard, and RAM would.

    To be continued... :)

  2. #2
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    Default Re: My upgrade

    The parts have arrived.





    The sizes are what I was hoping. The U3S6 does not interfere with the fan on the 5770.



    Here they are stacked.



    Next up is to take an image of my system. Yup. I plan on doing a hardware upgrade without reinstalling my OS.

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  4. #4
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    Default Re: My upgrade

    Having taken an image of the drive, next up was to replace the video card. Putting the U3S6 in first would block the airflow of the current GTS 250.



    There are three full-size (x16) slots on the board. I have the GTS 250 in one, and a 650 PCIe Combo TV tuner in another. Although it is only a PCIe x1 card, the TV tuner had to use the furthest PCIe x16 slot so it would not block the airflow from either the video card or the chipset fan.

    I used the "Programs and Features" control to remove the following.

    NVIDIA Stereoscopic 3D Driver
    NVIDIA PhysX
    NVIDIA Display Control Panel
    NVIDIA Drivers

    Once uninstalled, I was prompted to reboot. I started in Safe Mode and used Driver Sweeper to clean out the Nvidia drivers. I shut down and swapped the video cards. For those of you who haven't noticed this type of thing before, be careful to look for protective films on video card coolers.



    The camera actually picked that up better than it can be seen. Check the picture in the earlier post and see if you notice that sticker.

    So far, so good. Everything seems to be working at least as well as before. I have so far resisted the urge to benchmark the new card.

    The U3S6 is what really has me worried, particularly enabling the AHCI mode. That will be the tricky part.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: My upgrade

    The U3S6 is installed and everything seems to be working!

    I installed the card without anything attached. I wanted to make sure Windows had all appropriate drivers first. When starting the computer, the normal bootup process was followed by the Marvell BIOS reporting that it had no drives attached.

    Upon startup, Windows detected the new hardware. The Device Manager configured the SATA controller using the Microsoft AHCI drivers, but the NEC USB 3.0 needed the driver to be installed manually. After installing the driver and rebooting, everything seemed to be ready. I double-checked the AHCI registry setting to confirm Windows had enabled AHCI. You can find information about this step easily, but here is the particular entry to look for.

    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\servic es\msahci]
    "Start"=dword:00000000

    Now for the moment of truth. I shut the computer down, moved the SATA cable from the motherboard to the U3S6, and started the computer up again. After the normal bootup process, the Marvell controller simply hung at "Initializing._"

    Ok. Various searches gave many results, but not any that seemed particularly relevant, so I took a guess. I disconnected the drive, restarted the computer, went into the BIOS, completely disabled the Nvidia SATA controller, saved, and restarted again. Of course, with no drives connected to any enabled controller, there weren't any boot drives. :)

    I powered down, plugged the drive into the U3S6 again, and started up. Success! It recognized the drive right away and started into Windows. I shut the system down again. Now I needed to figure out what my options were. The U3S6 only has two SATA ports. I have three drives to connect, and it would be nice to have my eSATA port on the front of the case working.

    The eVGA 680i SLI BIOS doesn't have many options for the SATA controllers. Here is the summary of what I discovered.

    Disabled - OK
    SATA 0 - OK
    SATA 0+1 - U3S6 hangs
    All Enabled - U3S6 hangs

    Fortunately, I was able to use the SATA 0 option. This enables the SATA 0 controller, which in turn enables ports 1 and 2. This gives me four ports total to work with. I connected my two hard drives to the U3S6, and my DVD/RW and eSATA to the Nvidia ports.

    Things have only been up and running for about an hour now, so I am "cautiously optimistic". Hopefully this helps others that have been considering buying the Asus U3S6 for older hardware.
    Last edited by terminal addict; 04-26-2010 at 11:02 PM. Reason: clarify BIOS settings for SATA controller

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  7. #7
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    Default Re: My upgrade

    Three days later and things seem to be operating great! No crashes or hiccups. Now to order a USB 3.0 enclosure! :)

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    Default Re: My upgrade

    I am happy with it so far. I haven't had much opportunity to "torture" it. Hopefully doing that tonight.

    The fan still surprises me a little when I turn the computer on because it kicks in at full speed. It spins down to barely audible right away though.

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    Default Re: My upgrade

    It is waiting for the torture

    I need to get me a 5xxx series already!!

    That is normal for the fans to do that, if you didn't know. If you feel up to it you can edit the BIOS fan settings, but not sure if you can change the spinup boot amount though?

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