So the PC that I use as my 'media center' system died over the last several weeks, resulting in my 'need' to replace the guts of the box. That meant getting a new motherboard at a minimum, and possibly upgrading to a faster CPU while I was at it.
I went online, did a little research about the current AMD dual core CPUs and what type of socket I'd need for same and came up with a motherboard and CPU combo that was offered at TigerDirect.com at what I considered a pretty reasonable price.
For those interested, the actual combo I went with is here and is pictured below. This is an ASUS M2A-VM HDMI board paired with an Athlon X2 5600+ dual core processor (similar to the one pictured).
Image linked from TigerDirect website
This board seemed to be a great candidate for use in an HTPC (home theatre PC) system since it included a video card that is perfectly capable of displaying TV content, as well as including an HDMI connector via a riser card that occupies the PCI Express x16 slot. (Some reviews that I saw complained about the riser card occupying that slot, but if you need the slot for a better video card then odds are that you aren't interested in using HDMI anyway ) With built in ATI Radeon x1250 video and the HDMI connection available, plus Realtek HD audio included, the board really does seem to be aimed at use in home brew HTPC systems. The M2A-VM HDMI is an AM2+ compatible board, so it's able to deal with the currently available dual core (AMD) processors that are on the market, as opposed to the older board that I was using which was a socket 939 board.
Gamers would rightfully complain that the x1250 video isn't up to snuff, the board isn't really capable of dealing with SLI (see definition here) so running multiple video cards isn't possible, or at least not recommended with this board. Then there's the fact that the board only offers 2 PCI slots which can be somewhat confining for people that might want to jam several things into their systems.
After reading several positive reviews, and seeing others make comments about how the board seemed to be aimed at the market I intended to use it for, I felt somewhat secure in buying that board and CPU bundle as it should be considered a pretty decent upgrade to the older Asus A8N-E (socket 939) with the AMD Athlon X2 3800+ dual core processor installed. That board worked well for me until the chipset fan locked up necessitating replacement of same, and even worked for a decent period of time beyond that point as I was able to replace that chipset fan with a new one. Sadly though, recently the system got to a point where it shut itself down complaining about the chipset overheating despite the fan being there and running normally as best I could tell.
With that old system being incredibly questionable, when I went looking for replacements I put more thought into upgrading rather than simply replacing with the same type motherboard. I could have gone with a similar board, or at least something from the 939 series, but then I knew I had wanted to move up to a video card in the ATI x1000 range (or above) and that would have added about $100 to the cost of upgrading/repairing the system anyway. So, when I did the math, despite having to replace memory too, the numbers ran favorably for me to replace the mainboard (motherboard/mobo) and the cpu and toss in memory with that. All told, it was more than I had wanted to spend now, but should last me well into the next few years so not expensive over the long haul.
Unfortunately the adventures started for me about the time that started putting everything together. As noted in prior article, I hadn't noticed -- when researching -- that the board only had one IDE connector available. I probably wouldn't have changed my mind about buying it had I noticed that, but I would have factored it into the decision. I was able to get past that problem by buying a new DVD writer that was SATA based (that was cheaper than buying new hard drives for now), and considered just buying a PCI express based IDE/SATA board to put into the system. After the fact, the new SATA based DVD writer was fairly inexpensive and offered a decent speed bump over the older writer(s) that I had in the system, so it seemed to be worth spending the $$ on.
The next problem that I encountered was when I turned the box on with the two sticks of OCZ DDR2 PC2-6400 Platinum RAM installed. Instead of getting a nice beep at POST (power on self test), I got the horrid sound of beeeeeeeeep, beep-beep telling me that something was wrong. I mistakenly assumed that meant one of the sticks of RAM was bad and went back to using a single stick of RAM at the time. That worked enough to boot and get into the BIOS which is all the further I dared go until I bought the SATA DVD writer and was ready to install it. (Budget got in the way of buying it immediately...) Meanwhile, I ordered another set of the OCZ RAM figuring to have at least one good set on hand and planning to return the chip I thought was bad in the interim.
Procrastination again got the best of me, and I waited until I had the SATA DVD writer in hand and then opted to get things going again. With the drive in hand I replaced the older IDE DVD writers and cabled everything up and installed the additional RAM that I had gotten in the interim, except that I actually tried to use just a pair of RAM again just to make sure that I had two good sticks. Oooops, same stinkin' beeeeeeeep, beep-beep back again. WTF!?!? I figured that there was no way that odds were that bad and started doing some research to see what was going on here.
Come to find out from reviews over on NewEgg that the board has known problems with BIOS not figuring out the proper voltage to use for the RAM when you select AUTO in the Jumperless configuration area for same. What the frack?!!?! Auto is apparently not so automatic for this board.
The same reviews recommended replacing the BIOS (which I planned to upgrade anyway as I had already seen some details about those upgrades including support for additional RAM types) and I went about doing just that. Even after upgrading though, I still wasn't able to use the AUTO setting for the DDR RAM voltage area. I had to set it manually before I could proceed, and apparently I needed the numbers to be pretty damned accurate before I could really use the system without locking it up or having it act totally wonky.
Back online I went to research the voltages that I should be using with this RAM. Come to find out that I should set the voltage at 2.1V for this memory. Ok, done. Gee, the system now boots up normally and will let me flash the BIOS as I intended to.
So, off I go towards getting the system to load back up and repair itself as necessary (expecting Windows to discover new hardware, etc, and also expecting to have to get Windows reactivated since I had changed out too much hardware). Vista did just that, and I thought I was back up and running, but there were other mis-adventures to be encountered. More about those in a separate article where I'll be cursing the morons at Microsoft for the problems their operating system caused me.
Meanwhile, I am still left thinking that Jumperless and automatic device configuration isn't so friggin' automatic. There are other settings in the BIOS that I'd love to know what the proper settings are at this point. Settings related to the CPU frequency as an example, and settings related to hardware virtualization of the AMD processor. Some seem easy enough to determine the right answers for, but then again shouldn't the mobo be able to query the processor and get the right settings for itself? Uh, yeah, sure, in fantasyland I guess that is the case.