Ask the Doctor

Maximum PC Staff

The doctor tackles Surface Pro 2, Blu-ray Blues, Win 7 Downgrade, and more

High-res gaming:  SLI or no?

I have a computer with a Core i7, Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 GPU, and 8GB of RAM. I currently use a 28-inch 1920x1200 monitor. Can I upgrade to a 30-inch 2560x1600 monitor and maintain good frame rates in first-person shooters such as Battlefield 4? If not, would two GTX 760s in SLI solve this problem, or am I better off just getting a GeForce GTX 770 or 780? I would need a new motherboard in order to do SLI.

- Michael J Posner

The Doctor Responds:

It depends what you mean by good. You can get technically playable frame rates on high quality at 2560x1600 with one GTX 760, if you consider 30fps to be playable. The Doc generally recommends the fastest single-GPU setup you can afford. In this case, that would be selling your 760 and buying a GeForce GTX 780. Adding another 760 will increase your heat, noise, and power consumption, and you’ll be waiting for SLI profiles for newer games—not to mention the cost of upgrading your motherboard. It just makes more sense to run a single faster card. For what it’s worth, a single GeForce GTX 780 will give you about 25 to 40 fps at 2560x1600 on Ultra with 4xAA. Turning down AA and stepping back a few visual quality settings should easily give you a solid 60 fps.

Is the Surface Pro 2 Enough?

My current system is one I built using an MSI K9A2 Platinum mobo, AMD Phenom II X4 965 CPU, and 4GB of RAM. I use this system mainly for email, web surfing, Word, and Excel, but occasionally I do some work with Adobe Lightroom.

I would like to get a tablet that I could use as a laptop, tablet, and my desktop. I have been looking at the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. My question: Will this be enough horsepower for what I do? My current system is running at 3.32 GHz and has four cores, but only four threads. The Surface Pro 2, with the newer CPU, goes from 1.9–2.9GHz but has two cores and four threads.

- Alan Feinstein

The old ways were better! Start8 brings back the Start menu, and ModernMix lets you run Modern UI apps on your desktop.

The Doctor Responds:

If your current system is working fine for what you do, then yeah, the Surface Pro 2 will be great. It will even be faster in most things—the Pro 2’s Haswell Core i5-4300u should be much faster in single-core performance than the Phenom in your rig. Combined with additional RAM, SSD, far less power draw, and the portability factor, the Surface should be a pretty good bet for you.

There are a couple of caveats, though: Lightroom can be unpredictable in performance, and there is a chance that certain chores will be faster on the Phenom, but the Doc bets the SSD, RAM, and Haswell part will likely be the better Lightroom experience. Even video encoding, if you ever do that, should be faster on the Haswell part over a Phenom.

The second caveat is that the Surface Pro 2 is good, but not great. You may find the Modern app selection limited, the kickstand only has two angles (though that’s better than the single angle the first Surface Pro had), and neither of the keyboard covers has a particularly good trackpad. Still, it’s as good a convergence device as the Doc has seen yet.

Downgrade from Windows 8 to 7

I recently purchased a new laptop and, of course, it came with Windows 8. I would like to change it to Windows 7. My old laptop was Vista, which I upgraded to Windows 7 Home Premium, then to Professional. I will load a version of Linux on the old laptop. This will leave a Windows 7 license unused. Is there a way to go from Win 8 to Win 7, or will I have to buy a license for Win 7 and erase the drive on the new laptop and install the new Win 7?

- Patrick Flynn

The Doctor Responds:

Your old Windows 7 license, since it sounds like it was an upgrade of an OEM Vista license, is likely tied to the specific computer you first bought it for. However, some Windows 8 and 8.1 computers come with “downgrade rights,” which basically let you install Windows 7 over Windows 8 without wiping the whole hard drive. The Doc can’t say for sure whether you have downgrade rights, since we don’t know your laptop’s make and model, or even which version of Windows 8 you have—Windows 8 and 8.1 Professional are generally the versions with downgrade rights, and will let you downgrade to Windows 7 Pro. You’ll need a Win 7 Pro install disc and your Win 7 product key to try that route.

If your computer doesn’t have downgrade rights, you’ll need to track down an install disc and install Win 7 from scratch. If your Win 7 disc was a full retail version and not an upgrade, you should be able to install it. It may fail the automatic activation, so you’ll have to do it by phone and explain to them that you are moving the license to a newer machine.

Windows 8 does bring a lot of improvements to the desktop environment, though, so depending on what you don’t like about Windows 8, there are ways to make it more like Windows 7 without downgrading. If the Modern UI interface is what you don’t like about Windows 8, you can use a program like Start8 ($5, http://bit.ly/MPC_start8 ) to disable the Modern UI Start screen and bring back the Start Menu, and you can use ModernMix ($5, http://bit.ly/MPC_modmix ) to run Modern UI apps as windows on your desktop rather than full-screen. It’s cheaper and easier than downgrading to Windows 7 if you find that you will need to buy a new license.

MP3 Blus

I burned a data Blu-ray disc with MP3 music and my Sony Blu-ray player will not play the MP3s. It will not even show the songs. Is this a known issue? Thanks.

- Terry Hollingsworth

The Doctor Responds:

It’s not clear that entertainment center Blu-ray players can even read data Blu-ray discs, and we’re not able to find any indication that Sony’s players can read MP3s. However, many Sony Blu-ray players do have DLNA support, so you can always try streaming your MP3s over your home network using something like Plex. You’ll have to dig into the manual of your player to see if it supports DVD+R or CD data discs.

Android on Clovertrail?

Hello Doctor, I have an Asus VivoTab Smart ME400C tablet with Windows 8.1. I would like to dual-boot Android and Windows 8.1 like the new Asus Transformer Book Duet tablet. Can you tell me if it is possible, and if so, how would I get the Android OS? I have had luck in the past booting XP and Windows 7 with many different USB devices. This only has a Micro SD card slot for added storage that I can try to boot from. Please help.

- Kim Wofford

The Doctor Responds:

It probably can’t be done, at least not yet. Intel initially said it would not support Linux-based operating systems on the Clover Trail platform (the Atom implementation that your VivoTab uses) and there were reports that some Windows tablets had locked boot loaders to prevent dual booting. The recently announced Asus Transformer Book Duet can dual-boot Android and Windows, but it’s using a Haswell processor. However, there do now seem to be Android devices, like the Acer Iconia A1-830, that are shipping on Clover Trail platforms, so it’s possible some enterprising XDA developer will port Android to your device.

However, you can use a program like Blue Stacks (http://bit.ly/MPC_appplayer) to run Android apps on your Windows tablet. It’s not quite the same as dual booting, but it’s something.

More RAM or an SSD?

I’m running an ASUS ROG G750JX Laptop with a Core i7-4700HQ CPU @ 2.4GHz, 16GB DDR3 RAM, and a GeForce GTX 770M. I was planning on an SSD upgrade, but was wondering if another 16GB of RAM would give me enough of a boost to make it worthwhile, or would that be overkill? I am a gamer and love to play online/multi-player games. It’s not necessarily a question of budget, but would the performance I’d get out of another 16GB of RAM be worth the upgrade? Or would it be better to just put that money toward a bigger SSD?

- Christian Cryder

The Doctor Responds:

Definitely the SSD. 16GB of RAM is more than enough for any game you’re likely to be playing. Although your laptop supports up to 32GB of RAM, there’s no reason to spend the money. You’re much better off with an SSD, which will help with startup and level-load times. Since you’re on a laptop, aim for the highest capacity drive you can afford: A 500GB Samsung 840 EVO, for example, is around $300, while a 1TB is around $540. A 960GB Crucial M500 is even cheaper, at around $460. Either would be great for your purposes.

Problems, problems everywhere

For the last few months, I’ve been running out of disk space on my 120GB Samsung 840 SSD. I have been running CCleaner, moving games to my hard drive, and so forth, but my SSD seems to just keep decreasing in free space. I have an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 with stock cooler, an EVGA 780i motherboard, 4GB DDR2/800 OCZ RAM, an Antec 850W PSU, an XFX 9800GTX+ graphics card (now used as a dedicated PhysX card), a Gigabyte GTX 760 OC graphics card, a Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme-gamer sound card, and a 500GB Seagate HDD.

Today, my PC would not POST. No beep, no video, nothing. I went ahead and removed my 9800GTX PhysX card and made sure the PSU connections were solid. After that, the PC booted and all of a sudden my SSD showed as having 40GB free but my sound was broken. I managed to fix the sound by routing it through my monitor instead of the sound card. Could you help me figure out what is going on? This doesn’t seem to have a simple explanation, though I’m really glad to have my SSD storage back.

- Tim

The Doctor Responds:

It sounds like you have several different issues going on. The Doctor does not believe that your lack of space is related to the no-POST issue, although suddenly finding 40GB of storage after a reboot is puzzling but perhaps related to automated OS maintenance. Still, your real problem right now is your sound cutting out. It sounds like you may have jostled the sound card when removing your 9800GTX. The Doc would remove and reseat the sound card in the same PCI slot. If it doesn’t show up, boot into safe mode and uninstall and reinstall the drivers for it. If it still doesn’t show up, you should try moving it to the board’s other PCI slot.

If that works, you still have the problem of why your system decided not to POST. The Doc has read reports of your motherboard and other 780i boards suffering issues with the BIOS chip becoming loose in its socket. If it doesn’t POST again or if you receive an FF code, you may want to push on the BIOS chip (with the system powered off, of course). If you’re lucky, your problem was just the power supply connector, GPU, or RAM working loose. If they were never fully seated properly, it may have taken all of this time or a simple bump to finally get them far enough out of place to prevent a POST.

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