Reviving an Old PC Win 10 Licenses GPU Quandaries
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 184.108.40.206 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.
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.
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.220.127.116.115. 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.
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?
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.