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Thursday, 12 January 2012

New HTPC Build : Installing Windows 7 from scratch.

It is all looking good and time to build the SSD version. This is where things get a bit lumpy.

Where just turning on the old Windows 7 installed booted to a usable system the installation on an SSD suffered from numerous lock ups following graphics issues :


Took a while to figure out, I made sure the graphics were attempting to use the built in HDMI (and I tried the VGA connection which for a few minutes gave me false hope). I guess the only good news was that the failures were shortly after Windows had copied files onto the hard disk and with the SSD that wasn't taking much time to reach.

I had just about decided to try installing to a different drive thinking that maybe my first experience of SSDs was about to be a bad one when I thought to reset the BIOS. Note to self, always reset the BIOS on new installs. Worked perfectly first time after. I've since tweaked various settings (yes I am using AHCI mode), no overclocking, no underclocking, just default settings to keep stability as best as possible and not had a single extra problem.

I can safely say I like the Asus BIOS too, I've been using Gigabyte boards for sometime now and still to in my other PCs but I might  be convinced to change. Naturally the documentation is still useless and  Google is required to explain some unfamiliar options (EHCI Hand Off for instance).

Once Windows was installed, getting all the latest motherboard drivers and case drivers in place has been an absolute breeze.

Performance?

The WD 1Tb drive had about 10Gb free on it and even defragged as best as was possible performance of that drive seemed sluggish - so spreading data across both the 1TB drives improved freespace to around 30% and  performance looked pretty good for a 3Gb/s devive. However, the SSD performance is amazing [I did take screenshots of a performace testing tool but can't find them or it anywhere now!] - at least 10x the read & write speed of the hard drive and boot times are significantly quicker on this machine (SSD + dual core 1.6Ghz APU & 1066 Mhz RAM) than my i7-2600 machine booting off a 6Gb/s drive with 1800Mhz RAM - it really goes to show just how much of Windows' performance is bound by disk & looking at Resource Monitor, even with an SSD install and unwanted services turned off there is still almost continual activity.

When it comes to raw processing power the E450 doesn't cope well - decidedly down on horsepower so raw processing jobs are slow to respond. However, Windows Media Center is heavily disk bound and the caching used by Media Player means that the Album Artists display is massively faster now that existed on the 4850e install where is was virtually unusable as it took so long to load up the Album graphics.

I think the way Media Center works needs some help as it would appear that none of the system resources get maxed out when rebuilding libraries even on this machine, indeed, there are times when nothing seems to be happening at all. I suspect poor code - it should detect how active the machine is and get on with it.

Graphics performance is excellent. The blu-ray drive came with Cyberlink so testing a blu-ray film gives the processor a thorough work out but playback is flawless at 1920x1080 and processor usage dropped to < 50% when I remembered to tick the "use hardware acceleration" box so am very pleased.

Even more importantly is that the playback of films does not appear (yet!) to display audio / video sync problems with the built in AMD Radeon 6320 graphics over HDMI that were displayed using the AMD 4850e with a Gigabyte GA-MA78GPM-DS2H board with built in HD 3200 graphics which rendered the HDMI connection useless.