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General Chat Thread, PC Advice Needed in General; Firstly, this topic has nothing to do with schools or education at all - what-so-ever, perhaps it has more to ...
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    azrael78's Avatar
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    Cool PC Advice Needed

    Firstly, this topic has nothing to do with schools or education at all - what-so-ever, perhaps it has more to do with my education but you'd only be able to make a very slim connection there

    My trusty PC has been doing a lovely job for the past 3 years, however... it's started showing its age (as all things do I guess).

    Before you all scream about buying a new PC vs Upgrading - neither of those is a realistic option. Sure, a minor upgrade of a few bits might be doable but certainly nothing huge.

    Which leads me to the meat and potatoes of the issue.
    I'd like a more responsive and active PC than what I have, but I can't afford to throw in all kinds of new hardware to do that. So the solution must be primarily software-based.

    I have cleaned up my XP install as much as I can but even that only goes so far. I'm leaning toward wiping and starting over, but it's taken me a long time to get all the little 'twiddly bits' and things working the way I like (backing up my profile just isn't an option as it's more than that).

    The PC itself is the typical 'one OS - many uses' platform, not something I'd like but Windows is like a plate of spaghetti - pulling at it mercilessly makes a mess.

    The specs of the PC are as follows:
    MB: Asus StrikerExtreme (nForce 680i Chipset)
    CPU: Core 2 Quad - Q6600 @ 2.4GHz
    RAM: 8GB (4x 2GB DDR2) (Corsair CM2X2048-6400C5)
    VIDEO: ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB
    HD: NVidia RAID (1.45TB) - 6x Seagate 320GB (ST3320620AS) (RAID-5)
    (HD Tune gives it around 89.5Mb/per-sec average in this configuration)
    SND: Asus Xonar D2X

    It's running XP SP3 with all the latest updates available for it.
    Now in terms of what options I have - I've given it some thought myself and have come up with the following:

    1) Backup XP Pro installation, format and install Win 7 x64 - take 'pot luck' on games and some apps that may not work well.

    2) Backup XP Pro installation, format and install Win 7 x64, install VirtualBox/VirtualPC and virtualise specialised PC functions (Games, Multimedia encoding, etc) into seperate VMs.

    3) Install Win 7 x64 alongside existing XP Pro install, slowly migrate settings and apps to Win 7 and then delete XP Pro install.

    What I'm not sure of, is whether, with options #1 or #2, I should wipe the RAID configuration and set it up to do something more beneficial than RAID-5, not sure if the controller supports RAID-10 - it definately does 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD.

    Now, I'm happy to take any suggestions (even if they DO involve buying hardware), suggestions also about whether using RAID-5 in a workstation are advisable would also be helpful. (I didn't have a good backup plan prior to setting up the RAID-5 which is why I did that - now my backup system is much better)

    Thanks for any help or assistance you can offer

  2. #2

    featured_spectre's Avatar
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    Win7 x64 would suit that build much more than XP x64 will. Simply for the fact that W7 has much better resource management than XP. My PC is of similar spec and I have no issues.

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    azrael78 (3rd October 2010)

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    Options 1 or 3 are the only real choices because many games will perform very poorly in a VM due to the fact that the guest OS doesn't have direct access to the graphics card. To give you an example, the performance of the WDDM 3D graphics card driver used by VMware Workstation 7 with Windows 7 as the guest OS is roughly equivalent to a six year old GeForce 6600/7300LE according to Wikipedia (link) which means performance will be nowhere near that of your Radeon HD 5770. This will be fine for simple point-and-click style games, but definitely not Crysis or GTA:IV.

    The other issue you will find with virtualization is that the VMs will not be able to access more than 128MB-256MB of the video memory on your graphics card (VirtualBox is limited to a maximum of 128MB). Video encoding is fairly similar - doing this in Windows 7 would be a lot faster because you will be able to make use of all four processor cores.

    Out of interest, what games do intend to play? Most of my games have been purchased via Steam and I haven't come across a single one which will not work on Windows 7 x64 (Vista x64 was the same too). For this reason, I would go with option 1 - it will be less hassle in the long run. Getting Windows 7 to format the HDD during installation will also set the correct partition offset.

    Regarding your RAID array, I would read this thread on the StorageReview forums because the speeds you are getting are really slow. A single Samsung HD103SJ manages an average transfer rate of 114MB/s in HDTune. You would be better off replacing the 320GB HDDs with fewer larger HDDs. Not only will they be faster, but they will use less electricity and generate less heat too.

    Quote Originally Posted by nephilim View Post
    Simply for the fact that W7 has much better resource management than XP. My PC is of similar spec and I have no issues.
    Definitely agree with this. Installing Windows 7 is one of the best upgrades you can do and will make a very noticable difference as you will finally be able to use all of the RAM (instead of just 3GB or so). My PC is a similar spec too (Q6600 @ 3.2GHz, 8GB RAM, AMD Radeon HD 4870 1GB, 160GB X25-M G2) and I have had zero issues.

    Quote Originally Posted by nephilim View Post
    Win7 x64 would suit that build much more than XP x64 will.
    Unless I've missed it, there is no SP3 for the 64-bit edition of Windows XP. Azrael78 is currently running the 32-bit edition of XP with SP3.

  5. Thanks to Arthur from:

    azrael78 (3rd October 2010)

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    azrael78's Avatar
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    Thank you both for your input, I wasn't thinking clearly when I wrote about throwing games in a VM.

    I'm under the impression that - like servers, having many VMs with smaller services is better? Is this not true for workstations?
    E.g. Is it better to have one install (as I don't want to have to be rebooting to do certain things) that covers everything or would 'farming' some items out to VMs be beneficial?

    I also neglected to mention that yes - I am running XP x32, not x64.

    @Arthur: Will read the report from StorageReview, I was never sure about the RAID and my speed of HDs does seem slow, but is this down to the individual HD or is it the RAID part that's causing my bottlenecks?

    Replacing hard drives is an option but I see nothing wrong with the drives I have and don't wish to spend money if I don't absolutely have to - I'd have to buy a copy of Win 7 x64 as it is.

    Edit: After reading the post regarding RAID... simply put... OMG!.
    So I'm guessing if I blank EVERYTHING (including the RAID array in the BIOS), recreate the array and then install Win 7, letting it format everything, I'd get much better throughput?
    Last edited by azrael78; 3rd October 2010 at 02:51 PM.

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    I would strongly recommend you start from a new build with a blank slate, you'll end up with better performance and a cleaner build.

    I would recommend backing up the whole PC using Norton Ghost which is a snip at £35 or so - There is a trial version available which works for backups and you should be able to use the Trial version to read a backup using the Recovery point browser, which opens up the disks image so you can browse and recover anything you should need once you are in Win7. Just copying everything to a USB Drive often results in errors, because certain files are in use - the built in XP backup file format isn't the same in Win7, so you can't relay on that to work.

    Generally each VM you run will use up a PC's worth of resources. e.g. If need a VM with 2GB of RAM, then that takes it from the main PC's available memory, so realistically you need 2GB for the Host OS and 2GB for the VM = 4GB in total minimum for Vista or Win7, you have 8GB so that side of it should be fine. It doesn't matter how many you set up, but each one that's currently running will slow down the PC as a whole.

    Hope that helps.

    www.mazingtree.com

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    azrael78 (3rd October 2010)

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    Quote Originally Posted by azrael78 View Post
    I'm under the impression that - like servers, having many VMs with smaller services is better? Is this not true for workstations?
    It really depends on what you are trying to achieve. People usually virtualize servers to save money (fewer physical servers and support contracts required, less power/air con needed, lower infrastructure costs), the ability to deploy servers faster, increase availability and reliability, easier backups, disaster recovery and administration (among other things). As John mentioned above, running several VMs at the same time will reduce the total amount of RAM you have available for other applications in the host OS. Unless you have a good reason for doing this, I don't see the point especially for home use.

    Quote Originally Posted by azrael78 View Post
    Is it better to have one install (as I don't want to have to be rebooting to do certain things) that covers everything or would 'farming' some items out to VMs be beneficial?
    I would go with a single install of Windows 7 x64, install all of your applications and games as you normally would, then setup a VM with XP for anything which doesn't work at all under Windows 7 or you want to test out. This is what I do and it works really well. I mainly use VMware Workstation for playing around with different OSs and setting up test networks for my MCITP.

    Quote Originally Posted by azrael78 View Post
    So I'm guessing if I blank EVERYTHING (including the RAID array in the BIOS), recreate the array and then install Win 7, letting it format everything, I'd get much better throughput?
    I would definitely give this a try first as you should see an improvement (maybe with an odd number of disks in the array as suggested in that thread). Perhaps when you next upgrade your computer it would be worth looking at replacing the HDDs then? SSDs should also be cheap enough that you could get one for the OS and a couple of fast 7,200rpm HDDs for games and data storage?

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    jsnetman's Avatar
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    Raid 0 is supposed to be the fastest configuration for gaming, but the downside being if one hard disk goes all data is lost, you could of course raid 0 2 harddisks for your OS and raid 5 the remaining for data storage. At the moment you aren't utilising all that RAM you have so as suggested by others a 64 bit os is a definate and like others would recommend windows 7.
    Last edited by jsnetman; 3rd October 2010 at 04:39 PM.

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    azrael78's Avatar
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    I was hoping that if I could cough up the cash (somehow), I could get 2x SSDs (60-80GB) and RAID-0 them for the OS and then take 3 of my remaining drives and turn them into a small RAID-5 for data.

    I don't store everything on 1 partition, I store the OS and 'criticial apps' on C:, non-critical apps on D:, MP3s on E: and games on F:.

    While that may not be to everyones' liking, it works well for me as I like to keep things organised.
    However, with the above, it means my games wouldn't get the benefit of the SSDs, however that (theoretically) shouldn't be too much of an issue if I were to rebuild from scratch as the current 80Mb/s I get would be greatly increased my properly aligning my drives and formatting etc.

    The link that Arthur posted however suggested that having an EVEN number of RAID-5 disks didn't really help performance compared to an ODD number - whether that applied simply if you were going to manually realign them or whether it applied if you did a totally fresh install and let Win 7 handle it - I don't know.

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    win 7 x64, ssd for OS installation. Got an ssd for mine recently and the performance difference was amazing (on an i7 machine with 6gb ddr3). I don't use the ssd for games, just the OS and photoshop etc (which loads in < 2secs now ).

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    Quote Originally Posted by azrael78 View Post
    The specs of the PC are as follows:
    MB: Asus StrikerExtreme (nForce 680i Chipset)
    CPU: Core 2 Quad - Q6600 @ 2.4GHz
    RAM: 8GB (4x 2GB DDR2) (Corsair CM2X2048-6400C5)
    VIDEO: ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB
    HD: NVidia RAID (1.45TB) - 6x Seagate 320GB (ST3320620AS) (RAID-5)
    (HD Tune gives it around 89.5Mb/per-sec average in this configuration)
    SND: Asus Xonar D2X
    Slow you say? I wish I could afford something that "slow". At the moment I can't even afford to take a Macbook Pro on Apple's finance which works out at something like £45ish a month to have the spec I want.

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    That's more than my current PC had.

    I replaced it 3 weeks ago, then found my new pc's motherboard was faulty

    Then my old PC's graphics card died! Not a good week....

    A fresh install should see you able to play almost any game on the market at the moment.

    I play most multiplayer games on a Core 2 6420 2.2GHz, 8GB of memory, and (Until it died) an nvidia 8800 GTS 368MB, with 4 different SATA drives (1x 1.5TB, 2x 500GB, 1x 250GB)

    OK i can't run it at 1920x1080 with all effects, but mostly i find that distracting anyway.

    I'm having to use my new 5870 in the old PC atm, and it doesn't like it. the CCC didn't install, and I think the display drivers aren't installed properly either. But since I should get my new motherboard back from repair/replacement soonish, I'm not too worried. I'm having to play on the PS3 instead!

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    Butuz's Avatar
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    The rest of the PC looks fine apart from your raid array. For the boot drive go with a single 60gb solid state drive @ around £100 and then use the raid 5 array just for data.

    Just that will give a massive speed boost in windows.

    Butuz

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    azrael78's Avatar
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    Appreciate all the good info given here - a fresh reinstall is definately on the cards, but before I do that I've decided to look closer at my Hard Disks and RAID.

    If I use IOMeter or ATTO - I barely get above 30-50MB/s in reads.
    If I use HD Tach or HD Tune - I get the 88-95MB/s in reads.

    So my query really is - which result should I trust and what SHOULD I be getting in terms of speed?
    I'm sure that a complete wipe and reinstall with Win 7 will help things but if I should get a new mobo with better onboard RAID or invest in a hardware RAID card (or ditch the RAID altogether) - I'd rather know what I'm doing before I start to undertake things.

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    Butuz's Avatar
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    Have a look at this: .




    ~£100 is going to net you the biggest performance gain of any upgrade ever. If your obsessed with speed get two of them in Raid 0. If your obsesed with reliability get two of them in Raid 1.

    Your old Raid 5 array is archaic technology that physically can't give you anywhere near the performance £100 worth of SSD can. I don't know what else to say really.

    Butuz

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    azrael78 (7th October 2010)

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    Just ordered one



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