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Linux Motherboard Follies

Customer Service, Hoho HeeHee

  • January 27, 2010
  • By Carla Schroder
Since I stuck my toe in the multi-core CPU waters, it's been an interesting journey. Interesting, that is, in the sense of the famous Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." When it comes to computers, these times are a bit too interesting for my liking.

It all started with my nice but inadequate Athlon + ECS motherboard-based multimedia system. It's power to spare for ordinary tasks, like playing with KStars, work, using LaTex, and games. But for audio production and digital photo management and editing, it's slow. So I says, hey, this motherboard supports multi-core CPUs, so by gosh I am going to upgrade the CPU. Cheap and easy.

Famous last words.

My nice new Phenom X3 CPU worked beautifully at first. The whole system was more stable, and I could do things in Audacity that I couldn't before, like 32/96 recording. But the good times did not last, and after a couple weeks of happiness it croaked. It did not boot, it did not even POST. So I did the usual tedious troubleshooting-- re-seated all components, re-set the CMOS, replaced each component one at a time (CPU, RAM, power supply), and even tested the replacement PSU under load first. After all this fussing it became clear that the motherboard had kicked the bucket. It's barely four months old, so hurrah I says, warranty replacement!

More famous last words.

Customer Service, Hoho HeeHee

I don't know of any motherboard manufacturer that is known for swift and friendly customer service. ECS required almost two weeks of daily hoop-jumping before they would finally concede that yes, it does seem that the board is at fault. Though they reserve the right to send the same board back to me if it magically works for them. It is now on its way back to the mother ship; we shall see what happens next.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it is now week three with a dead studio computer. I saw the writing on the wall after the third request from ECS for yet more information, and started shopping for a new motherboard. I can always find a home for the old one, plus I have an orphaned CPU. So I reasoned I would get a new board for the Phenom, and get the studio PC back into service before ECS gets done dinking around, and use my warranty-replaced board with the old Athlon for something else.

Still more famous last words. Have you shopped for motherboards recently? It is a minefield. A tarpit. A bramble thicket. I swear they change trivial things on purpose to force us to buy too many things.

Compatibility? Not For the Likes of You

The first problem, and one that has bitten me before, is memory compatibility. Some motherboards are very very picky about what RAM you put in them. It's not enough to be the right type of RAM, like DDR2 533/667/800/1100, or some flavor of DDR3. Nooo, for that would be far too convenient for the likes of us. You have to use the exactly right RAM or it won't work. I gave up using Gigabyte boards for this reason; they're so darned picky I don't know why they even have RAM slots. Motherboard manufacturers maintain lists of approved memory, sort of, they're only partial lists and they never update them. Fortunately, vendors like Crucial and Kingston have their own compatibility tables that are much more comprehensive.

The next problem is CPU compatibility. Just because a particular board claims support for "Phenom II, Phenom, Athlon II, Athlon", for example, doesn't mean it likes your own particular Phenom II, Phenom, Athlon II, or Athlon. There are exceptions, so if the motherboard vendor's CPU list does not include your CPU, make them verify their information before purchase.

Finally, power supplies. A few years ago 24-pin motherboard connectors appeared, and you could sometimes use your old 20-pin PSU, and sometimes not. If you were wrong, the consequences were an overheated melted-down connector.

Ok, so times change, bite the bullet and get a proper 24-pin PSU. Well now there is new wrinkle---you know those little 4-pin CPU connectors that have been standard for a few years? Too bad so sad, now eight-pin connectors have appeared. Can you use your old 4-pin PSU with these? Some of them yes, under certain circumstances, depending on how much power your CPU draws and what your motherboard supports. But your 4-pin plug might not have the correct pinouts. That's right, there is not a standard way to do this, yay! (This Wireless forums post is informative.)

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