Re­viv­ing an Old PC Win 10 Li­censes GPU Quan­daries

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Back From the Dead?

Hi, Doc. I’m a huge fan of your col­umn; it’s prob­a­bly my fa­vorite part of Max­i­mumPC.

My dad re­cently got a new job, and I went to help him clean out his old of­fice. He told me that any­thing I found in the boxes was mine to take, in­clud­ing an un­opened HP xw4200 Work­sta­tion with a 3.4GHz Pen­tium 4 CPU, an ATI FireGL V3100 graph­ics card, and 1GB of DDR2 RAM (not to men­tion five 160GB HDDs).

Any­way, my 32-bit Win­dows 10 Pro in­stal­la­tion disc got an­noyed at this thing, so the PC is now hap­pily crunch­ing away be­neath my desk with a 32-bit build of Ubuntu 15.10 in­stead. The only real prob­lem at this point is that Linux doesn’t like any of my Wi-Fi don­gles, and my desk isn’t near any Eth­er­net ports. As a re­sult, I can’t do any­thing use­ful be­cause I don’t have an In­ter­net con­nec­tion.

I have to ad­mit that I’m hope­lessly lost try­ing to in­stall driv­ers for my Wi-Fi don­gles on this beast, and I’m not par­tic­u­larly com­fort­able with Ubuntu’s lack of fancy set­tings that I grew ac­cus­tomed to in Win­dows 10. So, I wanted to ask if you know of a low-re­source Win­dows 8 or 10 op­tion com­pat­i­ble with my hard­ware? More im­por­tantly, do you know how I can con­nect this be­he­moth to the In­ter­net?

It’s not a big deal if I have to ship this thing off to a thrift store. Af­ter all, my other two com­put­ers are just fine and dandy. But I feel that giv­ing it a good home and a pro­duc­tive job is the least I can do to make up for the 12 long years it spent lan­guish­ing unloved in a card­board box. –Kieran Al

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: Win­dows 10’s min­i­mum hard­ware re­quire­ments are the same as Win­dows 8.1, which were the same as Win­dows 7. You need a 1GHz CPU, at least 1GB of RAM (for the 32-bit ver­sion), 16GB of avail­able hard drive space (again, for the 32-bit ver­sion), and a DirectX 9-com­pat­i­ble graph­ics card. On pa­per, your work­sta­tion should be com­pat­i­ble. Try down­load­ing Mi­crosoft’s Me­dia Cre­ation Tool and build­ing a bootable flash drive. If the process fails again, there may be an in­com­pat­i­bil­ity that the Doc doesn’t cur­rently have enough in­for­ma­tion about to trou­bleshoot.

As far as In­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity goes, you have a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent op­tions. First, you can find a way to make the on-board Broad­com 5751 GbE con­troller work, at least un­til you can get the op­er­at­ing sys­tem up­dated. Win­dows 10 might not like the new­est driver, so visit HP’s sup­port site for an older one. Ver­sion re­port­edly does the trick. Or, in­vest in a more mod­ern USB-at­tached Wi-Fi don­gle. They aren’t ter­ri­bly ex­pen­sive, af­ter all.

Mov­ing a Win 10 Key

I have to per­form a clean in­stal­la­tion of Win­dows 10, which was a free upgrade from Win­dows 7 Pro­fes­sional. I cre­ated a bootable DVD of the in­stal­la­tion files af­ter I up­graded my PC.

If I use this DVD to re­in­stall Win­dows 10—which, by the way, is spe­cific only to my home-built PC—is the free Win­dows key rec­og­nized and ac­cepted, giv­ing me back my ac­ti­vated copy of Win­dows?

For your in­for­ma­tion, my com­puter is run­ning fine ex­cept for one prob­lem. My we­b­cam mi­cro­phone (a LifeCam Cin­ema) level drops to zero in Skype, and the per­son on the other end can’t hear me, even though I can see and hear just fine. I’ve used ev­ery re­source avail­able, in­clud­ing Skype’s com­mu­nity and all of the sug­ges­tions found on Google. How­ever, I can­not get the is­sue fixed.

–Mike M

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: If you upgrade a re­tail copy of Win­dows 7, 8, or 8.1 to

Win­dows 10, that li­cense can be trans­ferred to one other PC, so ab­so­lutely, it re­mains valid on the same sys­tem af­ter for­mat­ting and start­ing anew. An up­graded OEM li­cense can­not be trans­ferred to another PC. How­ever, there should be noth­ing stop­ping you from for­mat­ting and re­in­stalling Win­dows. And, of course, if you own a re­tail copy of Win­dows 10, it can be trans­ferred with­out limit, so long as the li­cense is only ac­tive on one PC at a time.

Rather than boot­ing from a DVD, though, give Win­dows 10’s “Re­set this PC” op­tion a try. Open the Win­dows menu, se­lect “Set­tings,” click “Update & Se­cu­rity,” then pick the “Re­cov­ery” op­tion. When you choose to “Get started” un­der “Re­set this PC,” you’re given the op­tion of keep­ing your files or re­mov­ing ev­ery­thing (and start­ing over). This way, you shouldn’t have to worry about know­ing the prod­uct key— re­ac­ti­va­tion is au­to­matic.

Patch­ing the Holes

Hey Doc, I hope that you can help me. I’ve been told that there is an update for In­tel’s Man­age­ment En­gine, and it is very im­por­tant. I have all of the lat­est up­dates in­stalled, in­clud­ing the BIOS. I even snagged the MEUp­dateTool util­ity for my Asus Prime Z270-A moth­er­board with a Core i7-7700K.

So, how do I in­stall it? Do I need to go to the BIOS or open a com­mand prompt? If you could give me de­tailed in­struc­tions on how to pro­tect my sys­tem, I’d ap­pre­ci­ate it.

–Ken Payne

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: For any­one who missed it, In­tel ac­knowl­edged vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in its Man­age­ment En­gine, Server Plat­form Ser­vices, and Trusted Ex­e­cu­tion En­gine, iden­ti­fied by third-party re­searchers, late last year. The com­pany pub­lished a de­tec­tion tool that tells you if you’re af­fected.

Asus’s MEUp­dateTool util­ity can be ex­tracted to your desk­top and run di­rectly. Note that Asus also rec­om­mends up­dat­ing your Man­age­ment En­gine driver to v. While you’re at it, there’s a new firmware build (1203) avail­able for the Prime Z270-A.

SLI vs. One GPU

Hello, Doc­tor. I am in the process of acquiring parts for a new rig. At more than five years old, my ex­ist­ing ma­chine is ag­ing fast. I’m cur­rently plan­ning to wait un­til sum­mer to buy the GPUs, since to­day’s prices are so bru­tal. But I re­cently heard some­thing that has me in need of ad­vice.

I have my moth­er­board (an ASRock X370 Taichi), my CPU (a Ryzen 5 1600X), my case, tub­ing and blocks for liq­uid cool­ing, and a 64GB mem­ory kit. Clearly, I want this rig to last a while. The orig­i­nal idea was to buy a pair of GeForce GTX 1080s and use them in SLI. Then some­body told me that SLI is un­sta­ble in some games, and may ac­tu­ally cause per­for­mance losses. This makes no sense to me, though, as ev­ery­one still seems to be build­ing SLIe­quipped sys­tems. The per­son who warned me off SLI, how­ever, wouldn’t re­spond when I asked for some sort of proof that the tech­nol­ogy can be prob­lem­atic.

I’m no noob to build­ing, but I haven’t paid much at­ten­tion lately to the is­sues plagu­ing par­tic­u­lar parts. Is this a GeForce GTX 1080 thing, or an iso­lated in­ci­dent where some­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions weren’t met? Is the per­for­mance gain avail­able from SLI enough to war­rant buy­ing two 1080s over a sin­gle 1080 Ti? I’ll be do­ing a lot of gam­ing and would like to hit 3840x2160 at de­cent frame rates. As men­tioned, prices are way up, but I’m hop­ing they drop even­tu­ally (then again, 1080 Tis were cheaper than 1080s the last time I checked). I just want to know what I’m get­ting my­self into.

–Kurt Col­bourne

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: Un­for­tu­nately, Kurt, there’s a lot go­ing on right now to com­pli­cate your ques­tion.

For one, mod­ern low-level graph­ics APIs give games ex­plicit con­trol over GPUs. This means that de­vel­op­ers have to de­lib­er­ately ex­pose multi-GPU sup­port, rather than al­low­ing driv­ers from AMD or Nvidia to han­dle the task trans­par­ently (as they did un­der DirectX 11). In the­ory, that opens the door to higher frame rates, thanks to more ef­fi­cient re­source uti­liza­tion. But launch schedules of­ten force de­vel­op­ers to pick and choose where they spend their time. Given the mi­nor­ity of gamers with mul­ti­ple graph­ics cards in­stalled, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that ex­plicit multi-GPU of­ten gets cut.

We’ve seen this func­tion­al­ity added post-launch through patch up­dates. And we’ve also seen other AAA ti­tles es­chew multi-GPU sup­port un­der DirectX 12 al­to­gether. It’s no sur­prise, then, that nei­ther Cross­Fire nor SLI have the ubiq­uity they did back when AMD and Nvidia con­trolled their op­ti­miza­tions.

Of course, you’re al­ways wel­come to flip over to DirectX 11, where multi-GPU pro­files still work the way they did pre-DX12. It’s just that, given the di­rec­tion tra­di­tional and vir­tual real­ity games are go­ing, the Doc typ­i­cally rec­om­mends buy­ing the fastest sin­gle GPU you can af­ford, and sidestep­ping com­pat­i­bil­ity is­sues al­to­gether. One GeForce GTX 1080 Ti al­ready serves up playable per­for­mance.

Help­ing Each Other

Doc, love your col­umn! I have the ex­act same camera as Nick, who wrote in a cou­ple of months back with prob­lems get­ting smooth play­back af­ter copy­ing files from his Sony FDR-AX53. I, too, had a hard time get­ting con­tent to my 4K TV from the AX53.

The so­lu­tion for me was a Minix Neo U1 An­droid box. I put files from the camera on a Net­gear ReadyNAS hooked up via Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net, and net­worked the Minix Neo U1 sim­i­larly. I didn’t use wire­less at all.

I use a stock in­stal­la­tion of Kodi on the Neo U1, just to play those Sony 4K files. The com­bi­na­tion works great, giv­ing me an easy way to watch 4K files on a 4K TV. I sim­ply browse the NAS and click a thumb­nail. The out­put looks great. The only bad thing is that those files eat up a ton of hard drive space.

Feel free to pass along my com­ment, and keep up the great work! –Bill

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: Thanks for the tip, Bill!

A Pho­to­shop PC

Hi Doc, I en­joy read­ing about your lat­est builds. My cur­rent com­puter was pieced to­gether in the Win­dows XP days, so it’s time for a cou­ple of new sys­tems: I want one for gam­ing and another for Pho­to­shop. I have 20,000-plus dig­i­tal images dat­ing back to the very first dig­i­tal cam­eras. This means I have a lot of stor­age space. But is there a spe­cific con­fig­u­ra­tion or graph­ics card that you would sug­gest for the task?

–Robin Fry

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: In gen­eral, Pho­to­shop re­sponds well to CPUs with high clock rates (lots of cores aren’t nec­es­sary), at least 16GB of RAM, and solid-state stor­age. A mod­ern, mid-range desk­top graph­ics card is am­ple if you find your­self us­ing GPUac­cel­er­ated fil­ters.

In­ci­den­tally, those rec­om­men­da­tions also work well for gam­ing PCs, so you may only need to build one sys­tem af­ter all.

Nvidia’s SLI tech­nol­ogy isn’t the force mul­ti­plier it once was.

4K play­back just needs a cheap stream­ing me­dia hub.

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