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.comment: Help Comes From Unexpected Places - page 2

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

  • August 9, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Time had come, anyway, to upgrade a little hardware. My old FIC VA-503+ motherboard had done yeoman service, but it did not, for instance, support ATA-66, which the newer VA-503A did. The place that offered the best price also had a low price for AMD K6-2-550 chips (this stuff really is becoming inexpensive), which was a 37.5 percent increase over the K6-2 I had. And the STB Velocity 128 that had been such a big deal just a couple of years ago now didn't seem to cut it, and Matrox G400 AGP boards with 32 megs of memory and dual heads were not all that expensive.

Two days later my order arrived and I learned some new things. These included the fact that while the English in motherboard manuals has gotten better, they don't really tell you any more, and there's now much more to be told; that if there is a way to make an FIC VA-503A motherboard deliver more than 64 of my 256 megs of memory to Linux I couldn't find it; and somebody is apparently relabeling AMD chips, because this one would boot at 550mHz, but that's about all--things like compiling even simple software invariably ended in the dreaded "internal compiler error," which is how egcs tells us our hardware is no good.

I figured I could live without ATA-66, so I popped the old VA-503+ into the machine, moved everything back, downloaded and burned a new CMOS (to make the board accept the K6-2-550), put in the new chip, discovered that the new chip still wouldn't work at 550, jumpered it to 500 (whereupon everything now pretty much worked), ran XF86Setup, and fired up one of the GL modules.

No improvement. None. In fact, there was (and occasionally still is) some serious weirdness, in which the monitor loses horizontal sync, making it look as if I'd strapped an orbital sander to one side of it. I had if anything made things worse, though my processor was 25 percent faster. Whoopee.

The hardware vendor offered support to the extent that they'd take the stuff back for a mere 15 percent restocking fee, and I'd pay the shipping. I would not be upset if they were playing in the driveway one day when I back out the truck. I was effectively stuck with the stuff.

Okay, the motherboard I could use somewhere else, and the vid card would probably be okay with some tuning, and the chip didn't cost much and was faster (though I was puzzled that its 3-D Now! was more like 3-D When?).

Turns out, I had just completed the easiest part of my quest to make the whales and sharks swim.

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