Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My computer... again

This is a complete history of everything I think is relevant regarding the gradual degradation of my computer gaming experience. Sprinkled throughout are links to relevant blog posts I've written about these events.

During MAGFest 5 (which was in January 2007), something happened to my computer and the power supply died. Due to general idiocy I didn't figure this out for a while. When I got my computer up and running again with the new power supply, I began noticing odd occurrences while playing Guild Wars. This problem eventually evolved to be a lot more serious. Specifically, the entire computer would freeze after about an hour. Sometimes this was accompanied by my screen turning off, sometimes it would almost freeze and then Windows would say that nv4_disp.dll had stopped responding. Sometimes it would just run horribly, like I was trying to run GW with max settings with a much lower-specced computer.

When it froze (either with video or without) the only way to get it back was to hit the reset button on my case. When I got the dialog about nv4_disp.dll, I could just click OK and continue playing, and it would run perfectly well after that. When it ran horribly (or as I've said in the past, "shat bricks"), looking at the Commit Charge figure in Task Manager reveals that it had gone through the roof, but the numbers for Virtual Memory and RAM usage (which I think are added together to make "commit charge", such a useless name) just didn't add up.

A lot of other people have had issues with nv4_disp.dll entering an infinite loop and generating a BSOD. I haven't ever seen a BSOD when this happened.

When this originally started happening, I was running WinXP Service Pack 1. I updated to SP2 just before MAGFest 7 (that would be in December of 2008). Still had the issue.

I found a workaround that would postpone the inevitable, which was to turn the graphics all the way down. It would still eventually run into one of the aforementioned problems, but it took 5-6 hours instead of one. It wasn't very pretty, but it worked.

Then the freeze issue started happening in other games. Specifically UT2004, but since then I traced it to any 3D game.

After I overreacted when my motherboard's onboard LAN died and reinstalled XP, I updated to SP3. The issue was still present, but I noticed something: playing games windowed allowed me to jack the graphics back up and have it still work for 5-6 hours. To this day I've been playing GW windowed. I haven't touched UT in forever.

Just recently I've been on GW a lot more (all the while still successfully maintaining a social life, see kids it is possible to play online RPGs and have friends in real life) and I haven't encountered any issues at all, which is making me start to think I might be able to run the game fullscreen again, as well as other resource-intensive 3D games like UT. But then again, my computer enters "shit bricks" state if I run the latest ZSNES, whether fullscreen or windowed. I'm using ZSNES v1.42 because it still works. I'd heard somewhere that 1.42 was the last decent version of ZSNES, and if this is the reason, I guess I'm never updating. I can run another OS in a virtual machine just fine, but the mere act of running the latest version of a SNES emulator (never actually getting to the point where I could start a game) bogs my computer down like crazy.

Earlier this morning I was browsing around nVidia's forums and happened upon a thread about nv4_disp.dll infinite loop problems. It proclaimed the fix was turning off some memory write queue register. Skeptical as always I read through the thread. People posted issues, suggested that the OP's fix either worked or didn't work, or suggested other fixes (turning off AGP fast write, which won't work for me since I have a PCI-Express x16 video card and not an AGP video card; and updating Realtek sound drivers, which my onboard sound is a Realtek but I haven't updated the drivers). There doesn't seem to be a unified, concrete "do this and it'll work" solution, but the point was made and substantiated that XP and nVidia don't get along very well.

I've been thinking that maybe another operating system would work properly, but I lack the desire to nuke an otherwise perfectly good XP install that I still consider "just set up" (heck, I just got around to fixing permissions on my two non-OS drives so that my new user owned everything instead of my old user) or go through setting up a dual boot just to try something else. I've wanted to dual boot Linux for a while, and I'm interested in Windows 7.

Also on my mind is getting a new graphics card, though honestly if I do that I'm going to build a new computer since this one was built in 2004.

Actually, let's go with that. I need a new computer.

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