Ask the Doctor: Driver Overkill, Sidegrades Everywhere, Sidegrades Everywhere, and more

Maximum PC Staff

The doctor tackles Driver Overkill, Sidegrades Everywhere, Sidegrades Everywhere, and more

Nuke It from Orbit?

A while back, I was trying to update my graphics card drivers but was unable to update PhysX due to an error I kept receiving about already having the most recent version installed, despite my uninstalling it prior to running the update. After a search around the Internet, I found out that registry entries left behind by my original PhysX install were causing the error. I then read on the web several forum users advocating that whenever one wants to update their GPU drivers, they should go into safe mode, uninstall all of their driver-related programs, manually hunt for and delete remaining files, purge the registry of any references to GPU drivers, run CCleaner, and perform a variety of other tasks to nuke the old GPU drivers from orbit. Since that day I have been only using that method whenever installing new drivers. However, it's come to the point that it takes five to six hours to update my GPU drivers now, and my computer is unusable for that whole time. It's causing me to only update my GPU drivers every six months or so, and I would like to know if it's still necessary to go through all this. Is nuking my old drivers before putting in new ones really worth it? Or should I just update like normal?

- Sami Saab

The Doctor Responds:

That's a lot of work to go through every time you want to update your drivers. The Doc's advice is to just run the updater as normal, and do the long and annoying method only if something goes wrong with the normal way. Even if it happens one in every 10 times, which seems high, you're saving yourself 60-plus hours over those 10 times. Since you’re running Nvidia hardware (PhysX isn’t available on AMD) there is another option that’s not quite as intensive: When you download the latest driver and install it, select Custom Install and then check Clean Install. The driver install will then remove the previous driver and perform a “clean” install rather than installing on top of the previous version. This increases the install time by a few seconds to a few minutes depending on your system.

Updating your drivers shouldn't take more than about 10 minutes, provided you're not switching GPUs entirely. If you are switching GPUs, and especially if you're going from AMD to Nvidia or vice versa, you should uninstall your old drivers first. But even that shouldn't take five or six hours.

No need for a full nuke; performing a clean installation through the normal driver install method should be good enough, unless you're switching platforms.

Sidegrade Stories

I'm currently sporting a Core i7-2600K with a Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H , 16GB DDR3/1600 RAM, 2GB AMD Radeon HD 6950, and an OCZ Vertex 4 256GB SSD. My system runs nicely with Windows 8 Professional, but I recently upgraded my board to an LGA1155 and am contemplated biting the bullet and picking up an Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K. If I do this, no matter what, I am going to be getting an upgraded video card and new RAM, which means I'm upgrading almost everything anyway. Is it worth upgrading to a Haswell Core i7-4770, in that case, or should I re-use the old board and just upgrade the CPU/RAM on a dead socket? The question isn't whether I can afford it, but rather what's the best move?

I'm not incredibly impressed with the upgrade paths from Sandy Bridge—it doesn't seem like the improvements justify the means. I'm seeking to replace my second, older rig with my Sandy Bridge parts. The older one is a Core 2 Quad 9650 with 8GB RAM and an 8800 GTS video card. Do you have an opinion on the matter?

- Joe Cava

The Doctor Responds:

So, you're getting a new GPU and RAM no matter what you do with the CPU and mobo (although the Doc isn't sure why you need new RAM if you already have 16GB of DDR3/1600). In the Doc's opinion, the smartest move is that GPU upgrade. You're right that there isn't a really satisfying upgrade path from your Sandy Bridge CPU and Ivy Bridge mobo; that 2600K is still more than enough for gaming. The only reason to upgrade the CPU and mobo on your main rig at all is to be able to use the Sandy Bridge parts to upgrade the rig that has the Core 2 Quad. That's a substantial upgrade, and in that case you should move your newer rig to Haswell so you can use the old mobo and CPU in your other machine. Of course, since you're upgrading your RAM and GPU on the new rig, might as well put the old ones in your older rig, too. Which now looks exactly the same as your main rig did before the upgrades. At least you save some money on a case and PSU.

CrossFire 6850 vs. One 7950

I currently have an Eyefinity multi-monitor setup utilizing two Radeon HD 6850s, with 1GB frame buffer each, in CrossFire. The setup works well and I've been very satisfied, but I'm considering upgrading to a single 3GB Radeon HD 7950. Will I see any benefit from this switch? Every benchmark I can find says the CrossFire 6850s are faster for single-screen resolutions, but that you need more than 1GB of RAM for optimum Eyefinity performance. What is the right answer?

- Louis Vitelli

The Doctor Responds:

Two 6850s in CrossFire are around the same as, or slightly faster than, a single 7950, but the 7950 uses much less power, it gives you three times the frame buffer, and is free of the micro-stutter that can sometimes accompany multi-GPU setups, as well as the issue of ensuring your games have CrossFire profiles. For a multi-monitor setup, the Doc would go with the single 7950. That said, you're essentially paying $250 for 2GB more frame buffer. If you can squeeze your budget a little further, you should consider a Radeon HD 7970 or 7970 GHz edition, so you get an actual performance increase from your GPU upgrade. They run about $300 and $375, respectively, these days. Of course, AMD has also announced its new R7 and R9 cards, so those worth a gander, too. As we are fond of saying here at Maximum PC, your best bet is to get the single-fastest GPU you can afford. And in your case, to make sure it has as much frame buffer as possible, since you're running multiple monitors.

Missing Boot Sector; RAID 0?

One day I came home as normal, started up my computer, and it turned up a black screen, with nothing on it but the words "Missing Operating System." What could have caused this? I have my OS (Windows 7) loaded onto a 120GB SSD. My computer still recognizes the drive, however, it can't find the OS. I doubt it was caused by a virus (I run MSE every time I start my system) and I hadn't downloaded or installed anything recently. The first time this happened, I shut down and disconnected/reconnected the drive, and it worked. But that only worked once. I tried it again the next day, and I couldn't get it to start. I have no idea what could be wrong.

I was going to boot the installation disc, and run the "Repair my computer" option. Would this work, and save my data? I don't have much important data on my SSD, (most is on my HDD) but I still don't want to lose it.

Also, I'm running out of room on my SSD, so I bought an identical SSD to RAID 0 with my current one. However, I did not realize how much trouble it is to move an OS between drives. What do you think is the best way to RAID 0 my SSDs while still keeping my OS the way it is?

- Jackson Gray

The Doctor Responds:

Take the path of the least resistance. First, disconnect any external USB storage devices you have—USB keys, USB hard drives—any external devices that may have confused the boot. If that doesn’t work, go into the UEFI/BIOS and check the boot order to make sure it hasn’t changed. The Doc has seen motherboards that lost track of the boot drive because a USB drive was inserted. After that, running the "Repair my computer" option from the installation disc is a good next step; if you have a problem with your boot sector, that'll identify it and hopefully fix it. If not, it could be a problem with your SATA connection. Try replacing the cable with a different one. Finally, the worst-case scenario is a failure of the SSD itself. SSDs are resistant to vibration and shock but their long-term reliability is proving to be the same as a hard drive. Many people make the mistake of believing that SSDs are infallible and forego backups. Oftentimes, the actual controller on the SSD will fail. Data can be recovered but it’s usually left to professional data-recovery services. Let’s hope it’s not that and you can see the drive. If you can't repair the boot sector using Windows’ “repair” option, try booting your computer from a live CD to see if the drive itself shows up. If so, copy as much of the data off of it as you can.

As for running out of room, you're probably better off skipping the RAID and just adding the new SSD to your computer as a separate drive, especially if you're having problems with your first one. To get your current image onto your RAID, you'd have to write an image of your whole disk, including boot sectors and hidden partitions, to an external drive, set up the RAID, and write that image back to the RAIDed drives. Keep in mind that any problems with either of the drives renders your whole RAID a bust, so the Doc suggests you cut your losses and just add the second SSD as a separate volume, at least until you pin down the problem with your first SSD.

E Is for Egregious

After waiting patiently to replace my 2-year-old Sandy Bridge-E Core i7-3820 CPU with the Ivy Bridge-E Core i7-4820K, I’ve just learned that Intel has no plans to provide a BIOS update for my DX79SR Extreme Edition motherboard, so the Core i7-4820K will never work in the board’s LGA2011 socket. This really hurts, especially since Asus and Gigabyte are taking care of their customers. I know Intel is getting out of the mobo market, but I wish the company would do the right thing and update the BIOS. If it won’t, are there third-party vendors that might do this? I’d love to upgrade the CPU and then hang onto my box for a couple more years .

- Tom

The Doctor Responds:

You're right, Tom. You’ve been officially burned big time by Intel. The Doc asked Intel why it has put its DX79SR in a life raft and set it adrift with two gallons of water and a tin of Pringles. The official answer? We never promised you a rose garden. Intel says it never committed to upgrade support for the Ivy Bridge-E processors in it X79 boards so it’s not breaking any promises. The real answer, of course, is that there’s literally no one left to update the BIOS. With Intel spooling-down the board division, the people who could have done it have quit, been transferred, or laid off, so it’s unlikely to happen unless enough X79SR users cry foul that it turns into a bad publicity problem for the company. The good news is that it’s pretty tough to justify going from a Core i7-3820 to a Core i7-4820K. You’ll probably see a 10 to 15 percent boost in performance. That’s decent, but really not worth the upgrade. It makes far more sense to move to a six-core Ivy Bridge-E part (assuming your apps need the cores and threads) or to just stay with the Core i7-3820 and put the money into a bigger and faster SSD, more RAM, or a big fat GPU. This is the month of The Doctor telling everyone not to sidegrade, apparently.

Displays Won't Display Right

I have two displays: a 2012 HP 2711x at 1920x1080, and an older ViewSonic at 1280x1024. I recently put the two together, but number one has decided to letterbox itself so that 1080p becomes 1000p. It may not seem like much, but the monitor itself already has a one-inch bezel around it. Add the letterboxing, and you have a grand total of 2.3 inches of bezel, which is extremely annoying. I have tried adjusting the Windows display properties, fiddled with the monitor settings, and even installed Display-Fusion, which you've recommended. My power-user instinct tells me that this is fixable. I am running a Dell Inspiron 620S (so mainstream, I know) with an AMD 6 450 GPU. Is this case curable, Doctor?

- Will Dang

The Doctor Responds:

You should definitely be able to run each of those monitors at its respective native resolution with that video card. The Radeon HD 6450 has HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, and DVI outputs, and the HP 2711x has DVI-D, HDMI, and VGA inputs, and all of those are capable of running at 1920x1080. You didn't mention whether you were using Windows native display drivers or the latest version of AMD's Catalyst, which you can download from AMD.com. Once you have the latest version, try setting your monitor resolution from within Catalyst Control Center, rather than Windows' settings or DisplayFusion.

8 or Wait?

I read that one of the Maximum PC staff has now switched to Win8. I have been hesitant to do so, mostly because some of my current software programs may not run well, according to info I've read on user forums.

But I hear Win8 is faster and better than Win7. Is it? In what ways and by how much? What common programs and hardware are most likely to have issues with Win8 to the point that it’s not worth adopting yet? What percent of Maximum PC staff has converted to 8?

- Doug S.

The Doctor Responds:

As we noted in our review ( http://bit.ly/PCitPe ), "Windows 8 performance is generally the same as Windows 7, with a performance edge in anything that uses the Windows Media Foundation and likely anything that is heavily multithreaded. USB 3.0 is also markedly improved." You can see a more detailed explanation in the link above. Because Win8 is built on the same code base as Win7, nearly all hardware and software that works in Win7 should work in Win8. We haven't seen too many instances where something suddenly stopped working in Win8, but if there are specific programs and hardware you rely on, you should check the manufacturer's website before upgrading.

As for the Maximum PC staff, they're split down the middle. Three editors use Win7, and three use Win8, although two of those use Classic Shell ( www.classicshell.net ) to bring back the Start Menu. That seems like cheating, but you get the desktop performance improvements without having to deal with the Modern UI.

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