Mike's general stuff ~ Random
I've decided to chuck my yearly (!) article onto this section of the site,since few things manage to bait my attention enough to write up a page of HTML :-)
Subjects of this article are the company ECS, a motherboard manufacturer I made the mistake of dealing with, and so hopefully people who do their research will hear of this unbelievable situation I've had with them, and the other subject is the Tomb Raider series of games.
ECS. I bought a motherboard for my parents' PC a few months ago which should by now be in the category of old enough to be pretty stable, with adequate BIOS patching. I built it out of bits I had spare from old setups of my home PC, so its hardware is the following:
- ECS P6BAT-Me v1.1 ATX mobo (new);
- P3-550/100, katmai CPU, used, no probs;
- 128MB PC100, used, no probs;
- 8GB UDMA33 Samsung HD, used, no probs;
- ABit GeForce2 MX200 AGP 32M (new);
- 300W PSU (new);
- OEM NIC 10/100MBit PCI (new);
- Acer 16x DVD 40x CD IDE, used, no probs;
My parents aren't in need of a top performing PC, just nice and stable. It is a stable PC, just with some annoying problems (admittedly they don't affect my parents' use of the machine, but annoying all the same):
On accessing BIOS setup on bootup (either with full compliment of hardware or as little as possible to boot), whenever you use the cursor keys to select something on the screen, it takes 2 - 3 seconds for the screen to update. I've never seen an issue like this before, and I tried a RivaTNT I had borrowed to test the problem, and the problem persisted. Not a big issue, until I also find that it affects the Win98 or NT4 command prompts, which makes it still not a major issue, but considering when I visit my parents and use the machine it is irritating.
The second problem is with DVD playback. Problem exists on both Win98 and NT4. For some reason PowerDVD 2.55 (perfectly reliable both on my laptop and my home PC) refuses to use the hardware acceleration the graphics card has to offer (MPEG-2 decoding instructions in the GPU), and if I force it in Win98 (to use H/W accel), I get wonderful DVD-type graphics corruption, and if I leave it to software encode (ie. the CPU does all the work), CPU usage goes 99 - 100% and frames get dropped. Also not a great problem for my parents as they don't view DVDs on the PC, but if I want to give them a PC, I want it to work properly!
I tried everything I could think of to fix either problem, but no success, so I try emailing ECS support with all the details I could think of. I get their UK support address off their site (www.ecs.com.tw), and wait a few weeks but no reply. So I email all their tech support addresses worldwide and get a response from their USA tech support department fairly promptly.
--- Date: Mon, 3 Jun 2002 09:35:21 From: "Support" firstname.lastname@example.org To: "Mike Coppins" Sir, Try using the the Nvidia detentator drivers and not the ones made by the video card manufacturer. Also your PowerDVD version is a bit old. Are the newer ones incompatible with 98 or NT? You may want to update to the latest bios to see if that solves any of your problems. ECSUSA Tech Support ---
As you can see from my original email, I gave them enough information to answer both those questions already, which annoys me, considering that I do some tech support work for my current company, and while 'not reading the question properly' and giving a crap answer for the first email is mildly annoying for the customer, but not reading the customer's email properly on the second "look I'm justifiably pissed off at your lack of reply" email merits more/full attention!
My reply (which I must have replied from my laptop and deleted, but quoted from their auto-reply):
-----Original Message----- From: Mike Coppins Sent: Monday, June 03, 2002 10:23 AM To: Support Subject: RE: Fwd: problem with P6BAT-Me mobo At 03/06/2002 09:35, Support wrote: >Sir, > >Try using the the Nvidia detentator drivers and not the ones made by the >video card manufacturer. I did say I'm using the latest nvidia drivers in either case. > Also your PowerDVD version is a bit old. Are the newer ones incompatible > with 98 or NT? You may want to update to the latest bios to see if that > solves any of your problems. I also did say that I'm using the latest mobo BIOS version, the main problem with PowerDVD is with later versions performance is worse than 2.55, so that's not really an option. Has no-one else contacted support about the slow BIOS/console issue? >ECSUSA Tech Support ---
Now the PowerDVD response is fair, attempting to try the latest version isn't a bad idea, and I did fail to mention that I tried PowerDVD 4x (XP), which had the same problems and dropped even more frames than before (there should be a rant somewhere here about software performing worse with every release!).
I didn't get a reply from (seemingly) the same person again. Oh well. But then I receive this email, which scores much higher on the 'bonehead tech support' scale (I've removed some weird-arse tabbing used in the reply):
--- Date: Tue, 4 Jun 2002 14:52:52 -0700 From: "support192" email@example.com To: Mike Coppins Dear Sir/Madam: First issued. You should double check your software or OS, You may have some driver conflict or corrupt of windows register cause this issued. In most time, you should back up your data and reformat your hard driver and load OS by fresh every 6-12M. because if you have too many software install or uninstall or delete file, your system may have a lot of unknown issued. Second issued. This is between your VGA and DVD software issued, like I said in the first issued, if you try using so many different VGA card, then your windows may have problem then cause the issued like you have now? and the version of Power DVD is too old , you should update to 3.1 version. """"""""Please include all the previous correspondence or case number when replying """""""" Regards, ECSUSA Support Team ---
Some people really aren't cut out to be in tech support. Perhaps ECS should be setting exams for interviewees that involve putting the right-shaped blocks into the right holes. I'll try to keep ranting to a minimum :)
My reply (yes I was pissed off at this point):
--- Date: 05/06/2002 08:21 (quoted text from previous support email) You're telling me that a problem with accessing the BIOS setup on my machine has something to do with my operating system configuration? Well, just to clear the waters totally on this one, the problem existed even before an OS install. Not that ANY OS install is going to cause a problem like that. The problem with slow access to the BIOS was also to the command prompt in seperate installations of Win98 and WinNT4. And also, thank you *very much* for the very helpful "there might be something wrong with Windows" diagnostic. Well, the issue remained unsurprisingly across three wipe-clean OS installations, because it's not an OS problem, it's a hardware problem! I'm asking for ECS's help because I think it's very likely that this is a motherboard issue! (quoted text from 'second issued' [sic] to end of response) I'm not trying to use multiple video cards simultaneously, I tried using a different video card on a clean install of Windows, and the problems remained. Just in case someone has totally lost sight of what the original problems were, here's my original email again: (I then quoted my original email to support) ---
Their reply (tabbing in place so you can see the weirdness):
--- Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2002 Dear Sir/Madam: If you still have any question in further , Please write your problem sentence by paragraph and by you own. Like I said before drop frames is nothting relate to motherboard, this is between your VGA card and driver or player software you using. """"""""Please include all the previous correspondence or case number when replying """""""" Regards, ECSUSA Support Team ---
What the hell does 'and by you own' mean? Thoughts occur to do with teachers accusing pupils of obtaining 'outside help' with their homework :-)
--- Date: 05/06/2002 (quoted first paragraph from previous email) pardon? (quoted second paragraph) So the slow access to the BIOS is down to what exactly? Whenever I use the cursor keys to navigate the BIOS it takes about 2 - 3 seconds to update the screen. I've tried this with multiple video cards and the problem persists. Is this regarded normal behaviour for this motherboard? ---
Yes, I was pissed off, but this conversation was highly unconstructive as soon as this complete dolt started responding to my problem, and I was still praying that the original person would pick up the thread, in hope of a less bonehead tech support response.
Their reply (please note this is quoted and bad spelling/grammar is how it was from his email):
--- I believe is your own mouse driver issued, Our BIOS will not suppor mouse, and I don't thinks this is big problem for this sytem , How many time you will go to motherobard BIOS ?? ---
WTF?!? I gave up here. Not only is the guy a total bonehead, but a "just live with it" response from a tech support person is totally unacceptable.
I would strongly recommend reconsidering your choice if you're thinking of going with ECS for your motherboard choice. There are better manufacturers out there!
The Tomb Raider series of games... while they were good games to play when I bought them, they've managed to screw up in one way or another as I get new hardware. The only one that still works properly is Tomb Raider 2 (and 5, but then again that is currently the latest version :-), TR3 crashes randomly and TR4 only works if I switch off FMV clips, which is irritating. While yes, I've completed them all at least once, a game should be technically ok to run on hardware at least a couple of years after its release... and Core Design still refuse to patch TR5's final level with the multitude of gameplay bugs that are well-documented on every TR5 walkthrough page you can find on the Internet, and Core Design claim they don't exist!