Saturday, January 17, 2009

ATI - Oh why, oh why?

It's like a beloved family pet has died.

I'm done with ATI. Never again.

My shop was always a firm supporter of ATI from the early days. By the time the first Rage chipsets came out, we were almost exclusively selling ATI products. They were not only a Canadian company, but they produced solid, reliable video cards. They were not always the fastest, but they were trouble free, and that was exactly what I wanted.

When a new Microsoft OS came out, you had support for your ATI products built in - It was just a given. Things worked. The world was a happy place with your ATI video card.

The shift in ATI happened gradually - they started going for more speed, wanting to be more cutting edge. More corners were cut, more fickle markets were being explored.

Being bought by AMD was both a good and a bad thing - but they were going south long before AMD stepped in.

What's with the Catalyst driver suite? Why do we need .NET to install graphics drivers? Yes, it's just for the control panel, but frig - big & bloated does NOT appeal to the gaming segment, nor to the business segment. Sure it's flash and fun to look at, but that gets boring after 5 min. You're not in the control panel all day - you use it for a while, then it's left alone for months or years.

If you want to have some fun, try and get ATI All-in-Wonder cards working with Microsoft Medic Center. Even funnier - try with Vista Media Center. There is simply no support. These high end cards are totally abandoned. All the money put into these cards (and they were never cheap) is wasted. You will have better luck with some no-name TV input cards than you will with the mighty ATI brand name.

It's not Microsoft's fault. They are not here to make drivers for the hardware companies. The number of posts with ATI users struggling to watch TV on ATI AIW cards is astounding.

I frigged with my Radeon 9000 AIW and MCE2005 for days. I even went as far as using my x800XT - I could never get playback and TV Input working. I shouldn't have to frig with this. I'm not asking for my Rage II video card to have full Vista support - we're taking cards that are not that old here.

BUT - My old Radeon 9000 AIW works just fine with MCE 2002, because Dell cut some specific drivers for it that work. Dell made it work for that particular package, and since they didn't sell that machine to run MCE 2005, they don't support it. I don't blame Dell for that. This is where the graphics chipset manuf. is supposed to come in.

Then there is the whole list of 3rd party Radeon chipset cards made for Dell or other peripheral companies that just don't work with the default ATI drivers. You have to track down old drivers from Sun-Moon-Star or similar defunct 3rd party companies. My built-for-Dell Radeon 9000 is one of them. ATI's standard driver install won't see it. It's the same frigging card. I have to use Omega or other hacked drivers to get them to work with my card.

This doesn't happen with Nvidia. It doesn't matter who makes that GeForce 7300LE chipset card - the basic nVidia drivers work with them. And they work well.

When my ATi Radeon 9000 AIW won't play back video in MCE, I just have to drop in an OLDER nVidia card, and I can play video without any problems. And you know what, it plays better as well.

I could also recant my recent RMA problems with a workstation-class ATI Fire GL card in an engineering workstation. ATI had to send THREE cards to me before they got it straight. They couldn't figure out their own cryptic part numbers, and kept sending the wrong replacement card. We told them exactly what it was every time - part number and the basic description - ATI Fire GL V3350 PCIe card with 256M. We were pissed, customer was pissed (as the whole process took over a month to resolve).

Learn from my pain. Learn from the pain of literally 10's of thousands of others. Stay away from ATI. Let them die now, so we can reflect on the good times we had with ATI before there is nothing but bad memories.

If you're going for TV - get yourself a Hauppage TV input card. Don't bother with anything else, or you'll be frigging with it.

I love nVidia cards at the moment - they are going into our business and gaming machines. Matrox - I haven't done much with them lately, but I have nothing bad to say about them.

ATI's Crossfire is very cool. It's better than nVidia's SLI, but I won't support their crappy company anymore. I'll give the cash to nVidia, and hope that their SLI2 (or whatever replaces SLI) is a proper step up.

My stock of any ATI product is going on ebay/Kijij - I don't even want to see them in my shop anymore. Just a huge waste of time. Nvidia, Matrox, frig - even a 3dfx Voodoo card please!

AMD - You own this crap-pile now. Smarten up - Making Crossfire an open conept is excellent, but won't save your video arm if you keep going down this route. Look carefully at nVidia's drivers - they install. No frigging. No worries about who made the card. I say I have a 7300LE, and I download the drivers, and install. No mess! It's how it's susposed to work.

Gah. I feel empty inside.

Friday, January 16, 2009

MSP Offerings: Zenith Infotech vs Kaseya va Bigfix Enterprise

It's time.

The collection of little tools we use to manage our customer's networks is growing unwieldy.

Yes, there are free things out there like Spiceworks and WSUS. More tools that don't work together, requiring technician time to patch together reports and run different tools to get a idea of our networks. WSUS drives me up the wall - it keeps promising things that ultimately don't work or need a lot of maintenance to keep running. If it was just on company with a number of desktops and servers under one roof, we'd be fine - but I have multiple locations to work with.

We need something that is one interface. Ultimately like to have 1 program to run my entire business (CRM, Billing, MSP, etc). We started working towards this in 1990 when I and a partner custom coded a webserver based app to run all our time, billing, and even to poll machines for hardware configs via DMI/WMI.

Of course, the time/expense of maintaining your own custom software eventually killed that noble project, but when it was doing 80% of our work, it was very, very cool.

For now, I'd be happy with three applications: My MSP, my PSA, and my accounting software.

I have Quickbooks, and my PSA is CommitCRM, so I'm okay here so far.

The requirements for a MSP offering are:

- Centralized patch management and deployment
- Inventory of servers and desktops we maintain, including installed software
- Ability to check Anti-Virus, disk space, backup status, etc. Common flags

All from one package. It would be nice to have a script ability, and I don't care too much about remote access, as I have that taken care of already .

I've got demos for Zenith, Kaseya, and BigFix installed on a temp MSP server right now, and I'm working through their training and applications to see who does what.

I'll post updates as I progress with these three applications, and eventally choose one.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

ASUS P5AB-Deluxe with DUAL nVidia 7300 Graphics Cards (Quad Monitor)

Okay, that was hell.

I've been running dual monitors for some time now, both on my work PC and my home PC. I am leaning towards nVidia for multi-displays these days, as I'm finding the ATI drivers to be really cumbersome, and their multi-monitor stuff isn't as simple and efficient as the nVidia stuff. Maybe if you want the options for virtual desktops, ATI is your thing, but I don't - it's why I got multiple monitors in the first place.

Anyway - I have a few extra LCD's kicking around, and some spare PCIe cards, so I thought I'd go for 4 monitors. I could really use the extra space when I'm monitoring and working on multiple servers at the same time. My current 7300 LE has 2 displays on it, and that works quite well.

I thought I'd just plug in the second card and away I'd go. Not so. Once you jump to more than 2 monitors, it gets tricky.

I won't go through all the permutations and combinations I had to run. I'll just jump to the end;

- Doesn't matter if you use ATI or nVidia on a crossfire, SLI, or regular board, if you're just looking for multiple displays without speed enhancement. My P5B is a Crossfire board, and I'm running two nVidia 7300's (without SLI of course).

- I didn't have to change any of the defaults on my ASUS P5B board - they are all good.

- I don't have a perfect match with my cards. One ASUS EN7300LE 512M, one knockoff unknown 7300 GS with 256M.

- You WILL have to uninstall ALL of your graphic drivers.

- You WILL have to hook up all the monitors and make sure they are powered up before you start the machine.

- Once you've dropped all your video drivers, Windows should detect both cards. Make sure to point it to your latest drivers (which you have handy someplace). Don't worry about errors and such, just make sure you install both before you reboot.

-On reboot, you may have to activate the extra monitors under Display Settings. My two other monitors were turned off by Windows by default.

- Give it a few reboots before you scream. Some reboots may hang. Mine did. I reset, and it kept trucking the next time.

- Have some older versions of drivers handy for install - maybe the latest won't do it for you.

Any mixup of cards should work, but you're going to have the best results with the same bus (all PCIe, all PCI, etc), and the same card chipsets. I've heard it's bad news to mix cards that use different Direct X versions, so if you have a DX10 and a DX9 card, it may be rough going.

I also heard that Vista doesn't like different video cards - this is something that only works under XP and maybe 2003.

This is waaaayyy cheaper than a $450 nVidia NVS 400 Quad-Monitor card. Old spare 7300's and 6600's can be picked up for $20 used.