After some research and comparison shopping, I decided to buy the following components to replace my defective motherboard:
- Athlon64 3000+ CPU, Winchester core with 90nm process. These run significantly cooler than their older 0.13Micron siblings and have better overclocking potential.
- Asus A8V Deluxe motherboard. This VIA K8T800Pro based board has a Socket 939 that supports the latest Winchester core Athlons and hopefully will be supported for a while. More importantly for me, the board has 3 regular (Parallel ATA) IDE connectors in addition to the 4 SATA connectors. Most motherboards these days seem to be moving towards SATA, which is certainly a good thing, but as I still have quite a few Parallel ATA devices (DVD-ROM, DVD-R/W, and 4 hard drives), I need at least 3 PATA connectors. Of course, I could always buy a separate controller PCI card, but I prefer this simpler solution. The A8V Deluxe has been getting good reviews, so I should be fine.
- 2 Corsair 512MB PC3200 DIMMs. I went with their value line, which may not yield the same performance as some of the higher quality memory, but nonetheless it is officially supported by my motherboard and supports dual channel.
For the most part, I am very happy with this combination, although I still have some serious problems. Read below for more…
My initial start after putting everything back together was somewhat rocky. First, the computer didn’t POST and all I got was a black screen. I then remembered reading somewhere that the A8V requires BIOS v.1007 in order to support Winchester core CPUs. Since I had ordered the CPU and motherboard as a combo from Mwave, I assumed that they would ensure to ship a motherboard with an appropriate BIOS, but this was not the case. After some initial frustration, I found a helpful post somewhere that suggested to start the system with a single DIMM in slot 3. And voila, with this configuration the system was able to boot into the BIOS. After downloading the latest official BIOS (v.1008) and flashing it using the A8V’s convenient EZ Flash procedure, my CPU was now properly supported and I was able to put in the second DIMM.
So far so good. I still wasn’t able to boot into Windows. I had previously set up a dual boot Windows / Linux configuration using the Grub bootloader, which for some reason wasn’t happy now. I now had to hunt for some DOS boot disks with the appropriate tools (e.g. Fdisk) on them, but wasn’t successful. Luckily, two downloadable CD-ROM bootdisks came to the rescue. Both contain a variety of rescue and system diagnostics tools, and using them I was easily able to fix my MBR to remove Grub.
Ultimate Boot CD: This is my favorite of these two CDs. It contains a wealth of tools, as well as a complete, Knoppix-based Linux distribution. You simply download the ISO, burn it on CD, and boot from it.
911 Rescue CD: Another great tool. Instead of an ISO image, you need to download a CD builder that you run on your computer in order to generate a rescue CD image. I believe (although I haven’t really looked much into this aspect) that it is able to incorporate a Windows installer into the rescue CD, which is probably the main reason why the CD cannot simply be downloaded in form of an ISO image. It does not contain a Linux distribution, though.
I had anticipated having to reinstall Windows after replacing the motherboard, but surprisingly it was able to recognize the new components and ran happily after updating or installing the corresponding drivers. Maybe the fact that my previous system also used an Athlon CPU and a VIA chipset helped.
Now for the remaining problem that I’ve been unable to fix so far: I am unable to boot from any Windows XP installation CD. This may not be an immediate issue, as my existing installation is luckily working just fine, but of course I need to be able to reinstall Windows if I have to.
I get to the point where I have to press a button the boot the CD, and I also get the following message: “Setup is inspecting your computer’s hardware configuration”. After this, the screen goes blank and nothing happens. I have even left the computer in this state for a whole night, without a change.
I have tried everything I could think of: Booting from my DVD-R/W instead of my DVD-ROM, removing one of my two DIMMs, disconnecting all hard drives, replacing my USB keyboard and mouse with PS2 components, etc. I have also tried virtually all permutations of BIOS settings (RAM timings and voltage, AGP settings, CPU and AGP voltage, ACPI, etc.). In addition, I downloaded and flashed the latest beta BIOS (v.1009.3).
This seems to affect all Windows XP boot CDs, including the vanilla XP version, SP1, and SP2. All other CDs boot fine, including Knoppix or the Fedora Linux installation DVD.
Many forums on the Internet mention RAM problems as the most likely cause of these types of problems. But I have tried different RAM, without success. I have also run Memtest86+ for about an hour, without encountering any errors, so it is unlikely that the RAM is to blame.
I suppose a bad power supply could potentially be causing problems as well, and while I have a 500W supply, it is a generic and probably low quality brand. I have actually ordered a new PC case as well as a new power supply, and I will test this as soon as it arrives on Monday.
And of course, I could just have a defective motherboard. However, the fact that it otherwise works fine (even games play fine, and I’ve had the computer running for several days at a time without issues) leads me to believe that the issue lies elsewhere. Still, I might have to try to RMA it if I can’t find any other causes.
If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.