Ask the Doctor

Kaya Systems

The doctor tackles Proprietary Connectors, Gremlins, PCIe Lanes, and more

Lane Changes?

Hey Doc, I currently have an Asus M5A99X Evo R2.0 running dual XFX Radeon 7970 Black Editions in CrossFireX. That's dual–PCIe 2.0 x8 mode. Would the new Asus Sabertooth 990FX/Gen3 R2.0 give me any advantage in gaming? I mostly play first-person shooters like Far Cry 3, Tomb Raider, Assassin's Creed 3, and the like. I searched the web and it’s a toss-up for little to no gain. Also, will the Sabertooth actually run dual-x16 in the PCIe 3.0 slots? I've read conflicting reports on the net. AMD fanboys want to know the truth!

- Garrett Franklin

Will upgrading to a Sabertooth 990FX mobo make a difference for gaming?

The Doctor Responds:

According to Asus's specs, the Sabertooth 990FX will indeed run two PCIe cards in dual-x16 mode. The question, though, is whether that makes a difference for your setup. PCIe 2.0 x8 runs at 4GB/s each way, while PCIe 3.0 x16 is 16GB/s each way—a fourfold increase. But does that actually make a difference in gaming with your setup?

Not really. TechPowerUp did a huge comparison using a Z77 board, a 7970, and a GTX 680. They tested each card at PCIe 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0, and at x4, x8, and x16 lanes, in multiple resolutions across 18 games. They didn't test multi-GPU setups, but it's the biggest apples-to-apples comparison we could find.

The upshot? A single Radeon 7970 is about 3 percent slower at PCIe 2.0 x8 compared to PCIe 3.0 x16. We're talking between one and five frames per second. In the Doctor's opinion, single-digit frame-rate improvements are not worth spending upward of $200 for.

If It Ain't Broke...

I just had a new PC built with an Asus Sabertooth Z77 motherboard. I noticed that the chipset drivers are about one year old. Newer drivers are available on both Asus's and Intel's websites. The system seems to be working just fine. Should I update the drivers to the latest available? I cannot seem to find any details about what the new drivers correct from the previous release.

As a person who has assembled computers but who is far from expert, I sure would appreciate some help in determining if I should follow the "if it ain’t broke don’t fix it" rule, or am I just not knowledgeable enough to know that the computer does need fixing?

- Dick Patyrak

The Doctor Responds:

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the advice we normally give with regard to BIOS updates, not drivers, since a badly flashed BIOS can brick your motherboard. For drivers, we recommend installing the latest stable versions available from the manufacturer's website; chipset driver updates often include performance and stability updates.

Regarding BIOS updates, though, our policy may have to change soon—we've seen lots of weirdness and instability corrected with a BIOS update, and they're slightly less worrisome to install these days. The Doc suspects vendors are still getting the hang of UEFI, and new versions often address stability and compatibility problems.

Nothing to See Here

I need to erase a few files on my hard drive so they are totally unrecoverable. Can you recommend software?

- Name Withheld

The Doctor Responds:

First of all, the Doctor reminds you that if you're currently under investigation it is a crime to destroy evidence, so don't do it. Next, the Doctor points you to the tool Eraser , which can overwrite files, folders, and whole drives with random data so their contents are totally unrecoverable. Use with caution.

Proprietary Power Connector?

I have a few parts lying around and I should be able to build an HTPC with little or no investment. The center of the machine would be a nice Asus Mini-ITX board (M2N61-AR). The power supply associated with that board has died and I would like to use a standard one. Unfortunately, as you may know, the connectors don't match up. The connector on the board is much smaller than that of the standard PSU.

I've looked everywhere (including under the kitchen table) but cannot find an adapter that would transition from a standard PSU to the board. Do you know if such a thing exists? I've even contacted StarTech , which specializes in those type of things and they don't have one. I still have the old defective PSU. Is my only solution to cut the connector from it and get busy with the old soldering iron and shrink tubes?

- Serge Desaulniers

This Asus board, exclusive to some long-vanished HP mini-machine, has a proprietary power connector instead of the standard ATX 24-pin. Fortunately, adapters are available.

The Doctor Responds:

At first, the Doc thought it was simply an older 20-pin connector, but upon closer examination, it is indeed some kind of unique 24-pin connector. According to HP’s website, it's a 2x12 “mini power connector.” This is why the Doc and all enthusiasts hate proprietary parts. They're not a problem at first, but years later when you try to repurpose something, you find it's useless.

Fortunately, it looks like there may be a solution. We found a mini 24-pin ATX cable adapter on Amazon for 74 cents plus $2.69 in shipping. The description says, “This cable adapter enables you to use a regular ATX or Micro ATX power supply with an HP computer with a proprietary mini 24-pin power socket on its motherboard. Perfect when the old HP system power supply stops working and you want to use a regular ATX or Micro ATX power supply as replacement” ( ).

That’s no guarantee it’ll work, but the Doctor doesn’t think HP has multiple different proprietary power connectors—at least, he hopes not. By the way, that board looks unique to HP. HP says it’ll take an Athlon 64, Athlon 64 X2, or Sempron up to 65 watts only, and only 2GB DDR2 DIMMs.

It’s a Gremlin

I have a 2-year-old home-built X58 rig. Almost from the time my computer was put into service, there have been video anomalies. The major, persistent problem is that when coming out of sleep or hibernate, the screen flickers black, holds at black for 15–20 seconds, and then stabilizes.

Under Windows 7 64-bit, there was a recurrent error message: “Display driver stopped responding and has recovered. Display driver Nvidia Windows Kernel Mode Driver, Version xxx.xx stopped responding,” with the version number changing to represent the driver in use. Under Windows 8 64-bit, the error message doesn’t appear but the problem persists. There is no particular software that causes it. It can happen in a game or Outlook or on the desktop.

EVGA replaced the video card three times, reporting that the RMA’d units tested clean. The mainboard was also replaced twice. After the third board showed no change, I replaced the motherboard temporarily with an Asus X58 unit, which didn’t flicker at all but stopped passing video to the monitor within three days (even with a different GPU and monitor). Except for the CPU, I have tried using other hardware (GPU, mainboard, power supply) to no positive effect. I ran whatever diagnostic software the vendors recommended. All showed no problems. Temperatures are safely within parameters, even on the cool side.

I've done clean installs of both Windows 7 and 8, tried plugging the computer directly into the wall to bypass my UPS; in short, I've gone as far as I can. I'm about ready to trash the system and build a new one, but that doesn’t make sense until I know what’s causing the problem in the first place—whether it’s repairable or endemic to the system as it stands.

- Ira J. Black

The Doctor Responds:

It’s probably a Mogwai, because your issue is not an easy one to track down. You've already eliminated the obvious suspects: GPU and PSU. Others with similar problems have reported it to be related to motherboard, RAM, or even hard drive. Still others report the error you had to be an issue with letting the GPU auto-select the PhysX device (choose manually instead) and others say tweaking the Timeout Detection and Recovery registry value helps address the “Display driver stopped responding and has recovered" error. See

You’ve swapped every component except for the CPU and have not been able to eliminate the problem, and even performed a clean install, so it’s unlikely something inside your box. The only advice the Doctor can offer, other than investigating the Timeout Detection and Recovery fix, is to try a different monitor and display cable. The Doc has seen troubles similar to yours—flickering, taking a long time to stabilize after sleep—caused by bad capacitors in the monitor.

SSD Slower than Rated Speeds

I installed an OCZ Vertex 4 512GB and I am getting slow read/write speeds—about 50 percent of the rated speeds. I have a Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R (rev. 2.0) mobo, an Intel Core i7-970 CPU, and 24GB of Kingston DDR3 1,600MHz. I am using a SATA 6Gb/s connection in AHCI mode. I also used IDE mode, with the same results. Can you tell me how to get the rated speeds?

- James Capolupo

The Doctor Responds:

Good news and bad news, James. Bad news first: You can't. The X58 chipset hails from a time before Intel had its own native 6Gb/s SATA controllers, and the Marvell SE9128 chipset your board uses just isn't as fast as the native Intel chipset (which is what everyone bases their performance numbers on).

The good news is that it doesn't really matter. Your rig is plenty fast, and your SSD isn't going to be slowing you down anytime soon. The big boost an SSD provides is the quick random-access times—the fast sequential read/write speeds are a bonus. You're still seeing faster reads/writes than on any hard drive, and even most SSDs. Don't let the difference between the rated and actual speeds get you down.

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