Thanks for nothing, nVidia

One of my computers, “Athena”, (an eight-year-old Dual PIII with IDE RAID), is dying. She is hobbling along on one processor and is freezing up every few days. So I am in the process of building a new computer, “Poseidon”, to replace her.

I recently purchased the following hardware:

  • Giga-Byte GA-K8NSC-939 Socket 939 motherboard.
  • Athlon 64 3000+ Processor
  • ATI Radeon X800 AGP Video Card

All worked fine. XP installed and worked cleanly, as did Windows 7 Ultimate. Running the “Windows Experience Index” (WEI) gave me a score of 3.6 – the processor was the weak link, and it was dragging everything else down.

Then I stumbled across an Athlon 64 X2 4400+ (a Dual-Core Processor) at a bargain price. One chip swap later, and everything is working happily. Or so I thought. XP ran perfectly, but when I switched to Windows 7 and tried to update the WEI, I started getting errors.

Two hours of research later, I found the problem. Apparently the Nforce3 chipset is not fully supported under Vista (which came out two years after this board was released, and was actually in beta-test at the time nForce3 was released). While it works happily enough with a single-core processor, there is a problem with Dual-core processors, Vista, and Certain ATI video cards.

This leaves me with the following choices:

  • Downgrade to a single-core processor.
  • Downgrade the video card (by swapping it with a slower nVidia card that is running in Apollo, one of my other machines).
  • Downgrade to XP and forget ever runnning Vista or Windows 7

nVidia are aware of the problem. They have been talking about fixing the problem for over two years… but talking is apparently as far as they have gotten, as they are no nearer a solution now than they were when Vista came out. Their explanation leaves much to be desired:

“NVIDIA has determined that this issue is specific to nForce3 based systems utilizing AMD Athlon X2 dual core CPU’s and running Microsoft Vista. The NVIDIA nForce3 core logic predates multi-core CPU’s and was not designed to support them. As a result this problem will not be resolved via drivers or system bios updates.”

This looks suspiciously like “It’s a hardware problem“.

That is, as they say in England, “A load of bollocks“.

  • How come that same hardware runs just fine on Windows XP?
  • How come it runs fine with nVidia’s cards but not with certain High-end ATI ones? – swapping in an nVidia Graphics card makes the problem go away. Given that ATI happens to be nVidia’s biggest competition in the Graphics card market, are you seriously trying to tell me that this is just a coincidence?
  • How is it that other chipset manufacturers (SIS and VIA, for instance), released updated drivers for Vista?
  • How is it that older chipsets than this are supported under Vista? Another of my machines – “Apollo” – uses the VIA KM400 chipset, which was released in 2003. It runs Windows 7 flawlessly.

From the evidence, I have come to the conclusion that the real reasons that this hardware was left unsupported were as follows:

  • To encourage users to migrate to boards with newer nForce (4/5/6/7) chipsets. That’s right, we want you to spend hundreds of dollars replacing your motherboard – potentially along with CPU and memory – because there is no money to be made in our fixing the problem.
  • To encourage users to abandon ATI’s graphics cards and buy… ours!

So.. that have I learned from this experience? That nVidia will not guarantee to support their hardware with the next OS that comes along.

Fortunately, I am happy with XP, will be staying with it for the foreseeable future. But with XP now two operating systems in the past (or one-and-a-half, if you count Windows 7 as the bug-fix that it really is), the writing is on the wall and it is only a matter of time before Microsoft officially mothballs the venerable old operating system by discontinuing support for it.

Fortunately, this will not be a gaming rig, so it will not be necessary to have the fastest Graphics card on it (that honor goes to mighty Zeus (yes, they’re all named after Greek gods).

In future I will be avoiding nVidia-based motherboards like the plague.

Now Reading: “The Endurance” by Caroline Alexander

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  • joelburge  On November 24, 2009 at 3:22 PM

    I must suggest an Apple my friend. I have my reasons but I’m sure you’ve heard them all before. Anyway, get ahold of me sometime.

  • Wizard Prang  On November 25, 2009 at 11:01 AM

    The machine mentioned in the article cost me about $110 to put together… what kind of Mac can I get for that?


  • By Arrayed in RAID « Wizard Prang’s Blog on October 6, 2010 at 10:12 AM

    […] 2GB and the processor to a X2 4400, the result was quite a fast machine, in spite of the fact that it cannot run Windows Vista or 7. With one minor drawback – slow Hard Drive speed. Restricted by its SATA-1 ports, Poseidon […]

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