Upgrades- 16gb of RAM and Radeon 6950 Hacks

Two quick updates on the new desktop PC before I get around to writing up more about the build process. First of all I mentioned in the previous post that I went with 8GB of RAM because the larger DIMMs were just to expensive. It turns out this is a perfect example of just how fluid the PC industry can be. Just a few weeks ago the only options to buy a 2x8GB RAM set cost more than $250, and last week NewEgg did a Shell Shocker for $99 which of course I snapped up. They are still more than 2x the price of 2x4GB sets, but since I love to run lots of things at the same time, run lots of VMs, etc, the extra RAM is really nice.

Meanwhile I also read about how you can upgrade 2GB Radeon 6950 boards to 6970s just by updating the BIOS to enable the extra shaders. Since I have one of those this sounded great, so I followed the instructions over at TechPowerUp. Er, except that I didn’t read all the instructions and missed the bit where for my board I was supposed to use a different tool RBE to update my existing BIOS instead of using the alternative BIOS they supplied. The result was a video board that hangs Windows anytime Windows starts up with the board installed and enabled. Luckily my motherboard has on-board video so I could use that but unfortunately the software that flashes the BIOS doesn’t work when the board is disabled in Windows.

Furthermore, the instructions on TechPowerUp show how you can easily fix these problems just by flipping a dual-BIOS switch on the board. So I look on my board and find the spot where the switch is supposed to be- the board has stenciled labels but I guess they cut costs by leaving the switch off. Grrrr.

I finally solved this by making myself a DOS boot disk using these instructions and putting the ATIFlash DOS utility on it. I was lucky I did follow the instructions about saving a copy of the old BIOS and that restored me to working state.

Proving that I’m a glutton for punishment I then tried the suggested technique of using RBE to update my existing BIOS. It didn’t seem to work for me- GPU-Z reported the same number of shaders and the machine seemed noticeably less stable. So I went back to the beginning and everything is running fine again.
Then I put the new RAM in. The downside of a smaller PC case is that it can be a real pain to modify it in any way. To replace the RAM I had to remove the video board (since it was in the way of the RAM side-clips), and the power supply (since it blocks everything in this case). Luckily the power supply is fairly easy to remove since there are nice thumbscrews that let you pull it out the back without un-plugging anything.

With the new RAM in I start up the machine and ran the Windows memory diagnostics. I always like to do this with new RAM to make sure everything is ok, especially given how much of a pain it can be to return stuff after 30 days. Its really great that Windows 7 has built-in RAM diagnostics- you just hit F8 during boot up, then tab to switch the “page”, and then select the diagnostics. I got a clean pass from those and am now full-steam ahead with 16GB of RAM.

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