Ask the Doctor

Kaya Systems

This month the doctor tackles XP vs. Windows 7, Upgrading from LGA1366 and PhysX on AMD

Pondering a $500 Upgrade

My laptop is an Asus G74SX-TH71 . It has a GeForce GTX 560M with 4GB of RAM, a 2GHz Core i7 CPU, and 12GB of RAM. It has two 500GB hard drives in it, one for OS and games and the other for videos. I was wondering if I should upgrade my laptop to a desktop. I have about 500 dollars and I’m looking for a good budget gaming computer with a monitor. Can you suggest a computer or a way to upgrade my laptop, maybe an SSD?

- Mridul Sarkar

The Doctor Responds:

Mridul, you’re not going to get a desktop and monitor for $500 that’s better than your year-old gaming laptop. If you want to speed up your laptop a bit, you could get an SSD, like a Samsung 830 Series , for your OS and games. That will dramatically increase startup speed and load times. You can get a 512GB version for just over $500. Alternately, you could spend some money on an external monitor; you can get a decent 24-inch IPS panel for under $300 these days. Or you can save that $500 toward a new desktop later on, when you have more money for a more powerful rig.

XP or Windows 7?

I am going to be building a new rig in the next month or so and wanted to know what, if any, performance hit I will incur or features I might miss by using Windows XP. I still prefer Windows XP over Windows 7 and re-read your articles from 2009 on the pros and cons of each. I use Windows 7 at work and on my laptop but I like XP because I’ve spent so much time customizing it. I have it on my current rig, which is about two years old. It’s not the dollars, I’m just sick of the Microsoft ball and chain of having to upgrade for little reason other than some major feature or two.

I plan on building an Intel Ivy Bridge rig. I’m not a big gamer anymore but do want to play on occasion. My main use will be video work: copying, transcoding, a little editing, and storing all my movies on my server. Plus audio, mainly MP3s. It’s OK if I lose a little bit of performance but I’m really interested in what features I may miss—USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s being my major concerns. Oh wise sage, what say ye?

- Scott Marion

The Doctor Responds:

Windows XP was a great OS, but its time has passed. Windows 7 is much more secure and (more importantly) is being patched and updated regularly as new vulnerabilities are detected. Also, if you’re doing video work, you’ll want a 64-bit OS so you can utilize more than 4GB of RAM, and while 64-bit XP was atrocious, 64-bit Windows 7 is excellent. Win7 also has better driver support, and many USB 3.0 controllers and SATA 6Gb/s controllers don’t work in XP. Not to mention, of course, that Windows XP is limited to DirectX 9, so unless you want new games to look like old games, you’ll want 7’s support for DirectX 10 and 11.

It's time to make the upgrade from Windows XP...

Of course, we could tell you to go for Windows 8 and be even more up-to-date. But it sounds like baby steps are what’s needed here. Go for 7. It’s a great OS, and there’s still plenty of customization you can do to it. We miss theming XP too, but not enough to go back.

Stuck for Upgrades

My PC is running a Core i7-970, Asus Rampage Formula III, 12GB DDR/1600 RAM, a GeForce GTX 680 , OCZ RevoDrive X2 110GB, two Seagate Barracuda 500GB drives, and a Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional. I am stuck between upgrading to Z77 or X79. I’m afraid to go LGA2011 for fear that Intel will do the same thing to the socket as it did with LGA1366. I am debating between an i7-3930K and an i7-3770K. Either way, I have to shell out for a new motherboard and memory unless my current memory doesn't matter for doing quad channel on the new chipsets. I have a Thermaltake Mozart TX case, so I have plenty of room for parts. I currently have three 12cm fans blowing 110cfm airflow on my MB, RAM, and GTX card and 1x 12cm 110cfm fan for exhaust. What does the Doctor recommend?

- Nathan Hungerford

The Doctor Responds:

After Ivy Bridge-E comes out of hiding from its undisclosed location next year, LGA2011 will indeed go the way of LGA1366. But that doesn’t mean you should go Z77. LGA1155 is also dead after Ivy Bridge; Haswell will require a new LGA1150 socket. So, what’s a builder to do? The Core i7-970 is still a good CPU, you’ve got plenty of RAM, and your GPU is, obviously, top-notch. Unless you’re finding yourself starved for CPU power all the time, our advice is to wait for Haswell to change platforms. As to your other question, RAM channels are chipset/CPU dependent, not RAM dependent. As long as your RAM is compatible with the mobo, you can generally reuse it in a quad-channel board and get quad-channel memory as long as you have four DIMMs.

5-Pin Header: Huh?

I recently built an HTPC with a Lian Li PC-V354A case. I have it paired with an Asus F1A75-M PRO/CSM motherboard. The Lian Li case has a fantastic front-mounted SD card reader. My problem is that, during the build, I realized I have never seen this type of connector before. I don't see a 5-pin single-row connector on my board. Did I not properly research my motherboard choice? Am I missing this port? Am I just overlooking it? If I am missing the port, is there an add-on card that I can buy? I'm running an AMD A8-3870K with integrated graphics, so none of the expansion card slots are populated.

- Diedrich Guenther

The Doctor Responds:

That is just half of a USB 2.0 internal header. Normally, a USB 2.0 internal header controls two USB ports, so a single set of pins will control one. Or, in this case, a media card reader. You will notice one of the five pins is not populated; that corresponds to the blank pin on the motherboard connector. Plug it into the top or bottom row of one of your motherboard's internal USB connectors (make sure not to plug it into the FireWire connector) and it should be fine.

PhysX on AMD?

I just built a new gaming system a few months back with a Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 GPU. Now that Borderlands 2 has come out, I'm missing out on all the cool PhysX effects. After doing some research to see if I could still get a stand-alone PhysX card, I have been hearing of players with AMD cards using Nvidia cards as dedicated PhysX cards for gaming. I was wondering how you would do it, and what type of card would be best to use without overheating your system, and killing your PSU.

- David Yocabet

The Doctor Responds:

There have indeed been hacked drivers that let owners of AMD GPUs use a secondary Nvidia card as a PhysX card, but they don’t seem to have been updated in a while. Fortunately for you, a little config-file editing will let you enable physics effects in Borderlands 2 without using an Nvidia card at all. This doesn’t work with most games, so give Gearbox some props for including it.

It’s easy to enable PhysX in Borderlands 2—even without an Nvidia GPU.

Go to your Documents folder (in Windows 7, that’s C:\Users\[username]\Documents\) and then go to My Games\Borderlands 2\WillowGame\Config and select WillowEngine.ini. It’s a good idea to make a copy of this before you change anything; call it WillowEngine.bak or something. Open the file in Notepad or another plaintext editor and search for PhysXLevel. It will be set to 0, since you have an AMD GPU. Just change this to 1 (for Low PhysX) or 2 (for High PhysX) and save the file. Launch Borderlands 2 again and PhysX should be enabled.

Watch out, though: Since you don’t have an Nvidia GPU to render PhysX, it all has to be rendered on the CPU side. Borderlands 2’s physics effects are pretty heavy, so this can drop your frame rate by quite a bit. You’ve been warned!

Note: This article first appeared in the Holiday 2012 issue of the magazine .

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