I bought this computer last month as a replacement for my HP pavilion d4000 (RIP) and while there have been a lot of improvements in the past 5 years, there are also a whole new set of problems (not unique to this computer).
Things like constant “not responding” errors, particularly when installing programs, can easily be fixed by turning off indexing service in Windows Features.
Harder to solve are intermittent audio dropouts that result in crackling, popping, static, stuttering, etc. The cause is Deferred Procedure Call (DPC) Latency, essentially this is when a program hog resources so long that it bumps other processes like real-time audio.
One solution is to use DPC Latency Checker (http://www.thesycon.de/deu/latency_check.shtml) to monitor your system’s overall latency then tediously disable things like network adapters, onboard sound, and PCI cards (one at a time) until it improves.
Don’t worry there’s a more direct approach. Windows Performance Toolkit will show you the average & max DPC latency for each individual program. Unfortunately it’s been packaged with Microsoft Windows SDK for Windows 7 and .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=c17ba869-9671-4330-a63e-1fd44e0e2505&displaylang=en), which is over 4GB! You reduce that download by only selecting “Win32 Development Tools” on the installation options page but that’s still 242 MB. Instead download just Windows Performance Toolkit (16MB) @ http://rapidshare.com/files/358684614/wpt_x86.msi (Windows 7 32-bit) or http://rapidshare.com/files/358681724/wpt_x64.msi (Windows 7 64-bit). Once it’s installed run Command Prompt (cmd.exe) as administrator and type “xperf -on DiagEasy” to begin the trace and “xperf -d trace.etl” to end the trace. You don’t need to run the trace for long, less than a minute, just make sure you when you run it you are experiencing latency by using DPC Latency Checker in the background. Type “xperf trace.etl” to show the results then scroll down to the “DPC CPU Usage” graph, right click on it and select Summary Table (sort by max actual duration).
The source of latency on this system was nvlddmkm.sys (nvidia) and dxgkrnl.sys (directx) which are related to the graphics card (Nvidia GT 220). The latency for these kernels got as high as 16 milliseconds with the newest drivers installed. Since dropouts occur at about 2 milliseconds overall system latency, a single program taking that long or longer is a disaster!
Although the GT 220 was the primary problem for this system there are other more common contributors that are may apply to you.
- Nvidia uses a power management setting called “Powermizer” in laptops (turn it off with Powermizer Switch @ http://www.box.net/shared/v7jpoateoq).
- Wireless card (take it out, if god wanted you to be wireless he wouldn’t have given you and an umbilical cord).
- Utorrent (switch to latency-free Vuze @ http://www.vuze.com/)
- Daemon tools (don’t install sptd or better try Virtual Clone Drive)
Once you find the problem you should update or rollback the drivers in question making sure to do a clean install with a program like Drive Sweeper (http://www.guru3d.com/category/driversweeper/) to completely remove previous installations.
But when that didn’t work I called Dell tech support to get it swapped out for a better card, which the first 4 people I talked to were unwilling to do, despite numerous threads on the Dell forums in which Dell employees not only admit problems with the GT 220 but suggesting calling tech support and having them replace it with the GTS 240 (http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/desktop/f/3515/t/19332029.aspx). One excuse they gave for not wanting to upgrade me was that the problems were affecting the XPS. First of all that not true (case in point), besides which problems have been reported with the GT 220 in all different kinds of XPS systems so it’s not such a specific problem. The only reason there probably aren’t more complaints with regards to the Inspiron is that the GT 220 only comes with this new pre-built model exclusively at Best Buy.
Regardless my system wouldn’t support GTS 240 as Inspirons come with a small 300w power supply. But that’s all right, I didn’t want another Nvidia, which seem to be plagued with problems, so I convinced them to send me an ATI HD 5670 instead. Officially this card recommends a 400w power supply, even though it uses only 4 watts more than the GT 220 already in the system. I went out and bought an Antec TruePower New TP-650 650W ($70 after rebate @ Newegg.com) not just to be the safe side but for when I eventually add more things. Despite the tight fit in this mini-tower case (most of the cords are shoved into the 2nd optical drive bay) it runs smooth and very quiet for anyone with proprietary concerns. Once I installed the ATI card my overall latency (idle or not) was under 150 “MICRO” seconds and even the spikes were lower than my lows with the Nvidia card!
Once you actually manage to get it to work, the Inspiron i580-650 is very good budget computer. It sells for just $800 but what really sold me was Best Buy’s 18 month no interest financing!
It comes with the i5-650 3.2 GHz (dual core) CPU, H57 chipset, 8 GB of memory, 1TB hard drive, which is plenty of power and space for your average user and then some. The system scored a respectable 7180 PCMarks on the Futuremark PCMark Vantage benchmark test (with the ATI HD 5670).
The Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM SATA 3Gb/s hard drive got an average transfer rate of 98.5 MB/s and access time of 14.5 ms on HD Tune Pro so opening that 350 MB rar of last night’s generic TV show takes about 3 seconds, but compressing it back takes about 2 minutes with WinRar (90 seconds with 7zip).
And while it might not play Crysis 2 on douchebag settings @ 1337 FPS, it can play newer games at reasonable frame rates on medium settings. Although it only got a score of P3049 on Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage with the GT 220, it was still able to play Battlefield: Bad Company 2 at around 25 FPS on medium 1280×1024, which is the highest resolution for my monitor anyway. But when I switched the Nvidia card the ATI though, my scores doubled! My 3DMark score is now P5805 and I’m getting around 50 FPS on medium and 25 FPS on high settings while playing Battlefield.
The speakers (AX210), which retail for $20, were a nice surprise but the sound was muffled and frankly didn’t hold up compared to my 5-year-old LCD built-in speakers.
The keyboard has a groove outline that’s “great” at catching dust and food particles, and the mouse is LOUD! It’s like the computer equivalent of sneaking into a creaky house. Now I get extra paranoid on the porn sites.
There’s no SDPIF, Aux in, or CD in on the motherboard.
Bright yellow LED on motherboard with shines though side of case, would have been nice it was blue to match the power button or at least less bright.
If you looking at one of the higher end Inspirons this is the one you want to get. While you can get an Inspiron 580 with the i5-750 (4 cores) on Dell’s website for the same price, it comes with half the memory (4GB), one-third the hard drive space (320GB), an even weaker graphics card (Nvidia G310 512MB), and no speaks.
But honestly you’d be even better off going the new XPS 7100, which comes with the new 6 core AMD Phenom II X6 1035T starting at $699. You can customize it with same 8GB memory and the latency-free and all around better card ATI HD 5670 for just $869, plus Dell’s doing 12 no interest financing on XPS.
While I do have regrets about getting not getting a 4 core CPU and now even a 6 core for basically the same price, it’s more out of envy than necessity. Most programs don’t need all those cores (yet) and for the moderate gaming & video editing, I’m fairly confident that this computer will get me through the next 5 years.