Ask the Doctor: Wireless Uploads, Case Upgrade, and More!

Kaya Systems

The doctor tackles Wireless Uploads, Case Upgrade, Water-Cooling LAN Box, and more

Leaving the USB Cable Behind

I’d like a better way to transfer photos from my phone to my computer. Right now, I connect my device to the computer via USB and use the “drag-and-drop” method. I know I could also use AirDroid on my phone to transfer the files via Wi-Fi. The third option is to use Dropbox ’s instant upload feature to transfer the file (full size, highest quality) to my Dropbox account. It is then automatically downloaded to my PC via Dropbox.

Is sending files through Dropbox optimal?

The AirDroid and Dropbox methods are incredibly convenient and I find myself wanting to leave behind the hassle of connecting via USB. I am reluctant to change methods, though, because I don’t want any data errors or quality erosion. Research I did a few years ago gave me the impression that data errors can happen when a file is sent wirelessly. Is there a reasonable risk of data loss using AirDroid or Dropbox, or has technology advanced enough that I can safely leave behind the USB cable?

- Dan Tiefenbach

The Doctor Responds:

Any transmission technique has potential for data errors, but that’s why all data transmission techniques include error correction. From USB 3.0 to Wi-Fi to TCP/IP, the data correction algorithms are there to prevent errors from creeping into your data. The Doc has never had a digital file corrupted or distorted when transmitting it wirelessly.

You can test this yourself if you’d like. Take a picture from your phone and copy it to your computer via USB. Email a copy to yourself from your phone and upload another copy via Dropbox. They’ll all end up exactly the same. You can test this by using a free tool to compare the files at the bit level.

The Doc took an image shot last week using a phone camera and emailed it. The file went from the phone through Verizon’s network to the Internet to the work Exchange server, over the work LAN to the PC’s RAM, then CPU, then hard drive. The same image, uploaded through Dropbox, went from the phone through Verizon’s network to the Internet to Dropbox’s servers to the work LAN and so forth to the PC. That’s a long hop for any file and it’s across a wireless carrier’s data network, not just the Internet. Both WinMerge (free, www.winmerge.org ) and the MD5 File Comparison tool ( http://bit.ly/jKhpjR ) agreed that the files were identical, bit for bit.

You should see absolutely no difference between the two files if everything is working correctly. If you are seeing differences between files, it’s likely due to a hardware corruption issue, but such a problem would likely produce errors while you’re running your OS, too. If it can’t read or copy a simple image or Word file, it’s probably going to also cough up a hairball opening a binary file. The Doc would not worry about data corruption, but if you’re moving a lot of files, USB will almost always be faster. We say “almost” because certain cameras/phones transfer via USB at pretty atrocious speeds.

In general, though, unless you’re transferring a lot of stuff at once, you’re fine leaving the USB cable at home.

PCIe x8 SLI?

I recently built a video editing/gaming PC on the Asus P8Z77-V PRO motherboard. It’s a great piece of hardware, but it only does SLI in dual x8 mode. When I install another GTX 670 next to my current one and connect the SLI bridge, am I going to see performance worthy of spending another $300? How does it compare to SLI in x16 mode?

- Alex Dalton

The Doctor Responds:

You should see nearly double the performance of a single GTX 670 when you have two in SLI, regardless of whether they’re in x16 or x8 mode. You won't see any slowdown even though you're in x8 mode; PCIe 3.0 x8 is more than enough to max out two 670s.

HDMI Out to DisplayPort In?

I've seen discussions about connecting a graphics card DisplayPort output to a video display's HDMI input port. Cables and adapters exist to make the physical connection. However, I'm wondering if the standards for the DisplayPort and HDMI ports allow for successful connection of a graphic card's HDMI output port to a video display's DisplayPort input. The physical connection is possible by all appearances, but will it function properly?

- Dennis Frill

The Doctor Responds:

Nope. It’s possible to go from a DP output to HDMI (or DVI, or VGA) but it doesn’t work the other way. According to the DisplayPort FAQ ( www.displayport.org/faq ), there’s “no cost effective way” of going from HDMI out to DP in. However, it’s likely that HDMI isn’t your GPU’s only output, nor DisplayPort your monitor’s only input. If the monitor has a DVI input, just use the DVI connector on your GPU. If your video card doesn’t have DVI out, and is truly HDMI-only, use an HDMI-to-DVI adapter cable—you can get one from Amazon for seven bucks. You’ll miss out on audio over HDMI, but at least you’ll have a picture.

Upgrading an Old Case

I have an old Lian Li PC-62 aluminum case that has been serving me very well for quite a number of years. I've upgraded the internal hardware a couple of times over the years, and will soon be upgrading again. The case is equipped with USB 2.0 ports on the front. If I upgrade to a new motherboard with USB 3.0 headers, I'd like to be able to get USB 3.0 from the front I/O ports. How different is the USB 3.0 connector from USB 2.0? Is it just a matter of connecting the port to the right header on the motherboard, or do I have to replace the entire port? Do they even sell replacement ports for the case, or do I have to go with an accessory to go into a spare 5.25- or 3.5-inch drive bay?

- Bob Berno

The Doctor Responds:

The USB 3.0 internal header is very different from the USB 2.0 header, and is not compatible with the earlier ports. The USB 3.0 header has roughly twice as many pins. Lian Li’s website has a page that lists the USB 3.0 upgrade kits for its models ( www.lian-li.com/v2/cable/cable.html ), but it doesn’t look like the PC-62 is one of them.

Silverstone's 3.5-inch drive bay adapter with two USB 3.0 ports

The good news is that you can get a 3.5-inch drive bay adapter with two USB 3.0 ports and an internal header for $20. Silverstone makes one we like, and it comes in both black ( FP36B ) and silver ( FP36S ), so you should be able to get one that matches your case.

Too Many PCIe Flavors

With the arrival of Windows 8, I upgraded my HP Pavilion Elite f9550—originally a Vista machine, later upgraded to Windows 7—ASAP. It has its original ATI graphics card for the PCIe 2.0 slot. AMD has dropped the card into legacy support, and while the driver seems to work in Win8, it gives an odd dialog box on shutdown. So I'm wondering if I can get a new card with support. Can I put a PCIe 3.0 card in my PCIe 2.0 slot, running at a slower bus speed? And what are my options for upgrading? I'd love to have a card that allows programming for more than graphics output.

- William Biesty

The Doctor Responds:

Yes, you can put a PCIe 3.0 card into a PCIe 2.0 slot and it will run at PCIe 2.0 speeds. When PCIe 2.0 bandwidth truly starts being a limiting factor in graphics cards (it really isn’t yet), you will have to upgrade to a newer motherboard, one with a chipset or CPU that supports PCIe 3.0 or later. But by then, you’ll certainly have gotten your money’s worth from your current machine.

Dude, Where’s My Boot Drive?

I installed a Corsair Neutron SSD on my PC and copied my system partition from a Western Digital hard drive to the SSD using Acronis’s disk clone feature. The SSD is bootable via F8 key during startup. However, when I attempted to alter the boot priority in the BIOS, the BIOS editor lists only the old WD hard drive among the options for boot priority. My motherboard is an Asus P6T. I would like to know how to get the BIOS to recognize all of my bootable drives and allow me to boot from the SSD without hitting F8 every time.

- Wayne Godsey

The Doctor Responds:

There are two separate fields in the BIOS that impact boot priority. The first one is the one that determines whether you'll boot from USB, CD, or HDD, and the second one, called "HDD Boot Priority," or "Hard Drive BBS priority" determines which hard drive will show up in the boot priority list. Make sure the SSD is the top priority in the “Hard Drive BBS Priority" field and you should boot into it automatically from now on.

Bang My Bucks

Doc, I'm currently running an AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ in an Asus M3N-HD/HDMI mobo. I have 8GB of DDR2/800 RAM, a GeForce GTX 560 Ti, and a 1TB WD Caviar Green hard drive. I use my PC primarily for gaming. I'm not worried about upgrading the hard drive since I still have a lot of space left, and while I understand that an SSD would speed up start and program loading, it's not something I care enough about to spend money on at the moment. My video card seems to be good enough for now, also. I am thinking about upgrading my CPU/mobo/RAM, though. I'm hoping to spend around $750. I think by checking different sites for deals I would be able to grab the CPU/mobo/RAM you have in your magazine on the Performance build list (Blueprint). Would that be the best bang for my buck, or should I look for something different?

- Jess Harrington

The Doctor Responds:

For a performance-oriented upgrade on a gaming box, our budget pick is the Core i5-3570K part. It’s a quad-core without Hyper-Threading and overclocks nicely for the money. The issue with that CPU and the entire LGA1155 platform is that it is at the end of the line. With Intel’s fourth-generation Core i7 chip (code-named Haswell ) and its LGA1150 socket just around the corner, buying into LGA1155 doesn’t give you many upgrade options. That said, unless you’re the kind of user who likes to drop in new CPUs every 12 months, you’ll be fine with that CPU for a long time—and like we said, the midrange 3570K part is a great gaming CPU.

If you are the type that likes to upgrade your CPU regularly, you should consider building on the LGA2011 platform with a Core i7-3820 chip. It’s a bit pricier when you’re done, but the upgrade path is better in the long run.

There is one more route, as well. If you game primarily at 1080p resolution and your games are not CPU-intensive (and most aren’t), you could do an incremental CPU upgrade by going to a Phenom II X4 965. They go for a mere $85, overclock nicely, and give you upgraded cores, as well as two more of them. Asus’s website indicates that your motherboard supports Phenom IIs up to X6 parts with the latest BIOS. With your remaining $650, you can invest in an SSD (an absolute must-have on a modern PC) and a faster GPU (and maybe a new PSU to support them). The Doc would normally recommend a second 560 Ti in SLI, but it’s not clear if that board actually supports anything beyond Hybrid SLI. The nForce 750a chipset your board uses does support SLI, but we’re unsure about the board itself. Your manual should be able to tell you. If it does support SLI, a second 560 Ti would likely help frame rates more than moving to Ivy Bridge would. If the board does not support SLI, sell your 560 Ti SLI and replace it with a GeForce GTX 670, which is a serious step up over the 560 Ti SLI. In the meantime, you’ll have enough CPU to hold you over until Intel’s Haswell arrives sometime this summer.

Keep in mind, the Doctor is recommending the last route only if you are primarily a gamer and the games you play are not known to be CPU-bound. If you do any CPU-intensive tasks such as photo or video work, a move to the 3570K or 3820 would be a gigantic leap forward in performance for you.

Water-Cooling LAN Box?

I’m looking to get into water cooling, but I regularly attend private LANs. I can’t find a decent water-cooling case that has a handle. I prefer the handle because of an old injury. Is there a good case you could suggest? My computer is regularly moved but I still prefer it over the laptop, for the performance over the convenience.

The CM Storm Scout 2 is a mid-tower case that can hold an SLI gaming rig. And it has a sturdy handle, for lugging it to LAN parties.

Form factor isn’t an issue—I have a mid-tower but a full-tower isn’t out of the running. I just want something that has decent room for water and for a Sandy Bridge/SLI setup.

- Joey Chatterton

The Doctor Responds:

Water-cooling and LAN cases normally don’t go together, Joey, because a custom water-cooling setup can easily add 20 pounds to your rig. If you move your rig around frequently, you’re better off with air-cooling or a sealed liquid-cooling unit—you’re less likely to damage your system by subjecting a water-cooling loop to frequent bumps and jars.

That said, the Cooler Master Storm Stryker sounds like exactly what you’re looking for. It’s a full-tower case with a sturdy carrying handle that can accommodate a full, multi-GPU water-cooling loop. Again, though, you’ll probably be topping 50 pounds with that kind of setup, so carrying it by the handle probably isn’t going to be great for you.

If you’re willing to forgo the water-cooling this time, we’d suggest the CM Storm Scout 2 . It’s a smaller and lighter case that can still hold an SLI setup, and has plenty of fan mounts—though you’ll need to add several fans; it only comes with one. It’s around $100, too—$70 cheaper than the Stryker.

One final tip you may not know about are the GearGrip line of products from CaseAce that are designed for LAN gaming. The GearGrip system harnesses are sturdy and can accommodate many different case shapes and sizes as well as your monitor and keyboard, too. Check them out at GearGrip.com .

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