Ask Dan: Video fiddling

Publication date: 7 September 2008
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


Twin 260s

I was looking to buy two of these Asus GeForce GTX 260 cards, but I'm not sure if my power supply is powerful enough.

Here are my system specs:

750W Silverstone PSU
2.4GHz Core 2 Quad
Asus Striker Extreme motherboard
2 500Gb hard drives
4Gb of RAM
and a 360mm fan and two 250mm fans [Whoa!]

If the PSU is not powerful enough, could you please recommend a new one to me?


Silverstone PSUs aren't rubbish; I don't know if they've fallen victim to the specification-inflation disease in recent years, but their specs used to be quite honest. As I mentioned in this Ask Dan, this review of an 850W Silverstone found its specs to be entirely uninflated.

Note also that Aus PC Market's boilerplate-text recommendation of "at least a 600W" PSU for a single GeForce GTX 260 takes spec inflation into account. Many stores do this; because there are so many outrageously inflated wattage claims made for cheap PSUs, it's a good idea to greatly overestimate the recommended PSU rating for various devices, so you don't have to break the bad news to too many people who bought a $25 eBay "1500 WATT!!" PSU.

The actual peak power draw for a single GeForce GTX 260 should be less than 150 watts, so a pair of them should be no big deal if your "750W" PSU can manage anything very close to its stated specs.

If I were you, I'd buy the two cards, plug 'em in and see if 3D games run OK. If the PSU flakes out nothing will actually be harmed; the computer will just crash. But I think you're likely to be fine.

If it turns out that you're not fine, you can just pull one of the cards (or stick to 2D applications...) for the day or two it takes you to get a higher-spec PSU.

In that case, I suggest you upgrade to a Corsair, because of their hilarious packaging.


The new bits are a different colour

I'm looking for a HDMI 1.3b (or higher) certified DVI-D -> HDMI cable to connect my graphics card to an LCD TV with HDMI in.

Does this one from AusPC meet this requirement?


I think you should be fine with any cable of reasonable quality. In theory, HDMI cables are all the same, unless they're rather long. In practice, it's possible that the very cheapest cables (the going rate on eBay seems to be around $8 delivered for a one- to two-metre cable...) indeed won't cut it for HD video plus multichannel audio. But there are actually no hard and fast rules.

I'm about 90% sure the AusPC cable will be A-OK, but I do not actually work there and haven't conducted any tests of my own, and it is five metres long. It would obviously be a pain if the cable turned out not to work for your application; AusPC would probably be happy to give you a refund (again, I do not set AusPC policy, so don't take this as a guarantee), but if you give your time a reasonable value per hour then you'd feel dumb taking the time to send back something for which you paid only $28.60.

Personally, if I were a normal consumer and didn't have Dan's Magic Lifetime Warranty on anything I bought from AusPC, I'd either buy their cable, or take a punt on a super-cheap eBay option. Either is, I think, actually quite likely to work fine.


Watt-chat 2

I purchased this AGP Radeon 3850 card for an nForce 2 mobo. I know it is a bit of an overkill for this mobo, but AGP cards are becoming increasingly scarce, and I wanted to buy a card that is DX10 compatible, so I took the plunge. However I only have a 350-watt Antec power supply.

I was wondering if you could recommend a good reliable and reasonably priced power supply to add to my system from the AusPC site?


Try your current PSU first. Antecs are pretty honestly specified, and AusPC's PSU "requirements" are, as I mentioned above, biased upward a bit to take into account the huge number of cheap PSUs with ridiculously inflated specifications. Since a 3850 shouldn't have a peak draw of more than seventy watts, it's quite possible that your current PSU will be fine. And if it isn't, all you're likely to suffer is a hard crash when you try to play a 3D game. Nothing should be damaged, and you should be fine to just use 2D mode with the 3850 until you get a better PSU.

If it does turn out that you need a new PSU, you'd probably be very happy with a 450W-or-higher unit from a reputable manufacturer. The brand on the PSU sticker is very seldom the actual manufacturer; there are big Chinese companies that all turn out PSUs for many different brands.

Channel Well Technology, for instance, make honestly-specified PSUs for several companies. Those Corsair PSUs with the funny packaging are CWT units, as are Thermaltake-branded PSUs, so those are just fine too, though they're a bit more expensive. You can get a Corsair PSU with an honest rating way up over 500 watts for a quite reasonable price, and that PSU could be transplanted into your next PC, too.

(Australian shoppers can, for instance, pick up a 550-watt Corsair PSU from Aus PC Market for only $AU154 delivered. Click here to order one!)

Note that there are several PSU brands about whose current quality I don't know enough. I'm pretty sure everything in the AusPC PSU department at the moment is perfectly OK; the only ones with any real spec inflation are, I think, the really cheap "GTR"-branded ones. But I can't swear to this, because I haven't researched who's making what for whom these days.

Fortunately, there are several sites now that do proper load tests on PSUs. So if you've got your heart set on a low-noise Zalman or something you should be able to find out if it, or at least another PSU in the same line, can actually do what the sticker says it can do.


For extra credit, work dial-up in somewhere

Would I be able to put a Blu-ray combo drive in this external enclosure and use it to watch Blu-ray movies?


In theory, yes. In practice, it could be a pain.

If you use the box's external SATA connection (which means you'll need an eSATA controller card in your computer), the external drive ought to work just like an internal drive.

Over USB, it still ought to work - or, at least, the USB connection shouldn't be what stops it from working - but I'm not making any bets, because I haven't tried it.

(Note that you also have to get a SATA Blu-Ray drive if you want to use this SATA external box. There are Parallel-ATA Blu-Ray drives as well.)

The official way you're supposed to play commercial Blu-Ray discs on a computer is with a data chain that's completely compliant with the HDCP copy-control system. So your Blu-Ray drive, playback software, graphics card (including driver software) and monitor (which must be connected via DVI or HDMI) all have to work with HDCP, or you don't get to watch the movie.

The first PC graphics cards, monitors and HDTVs that were supposed to be HDCP-compliant often... weren't. Or, at least, weren't compatible with each other. Those problems have been more or less ironed out, now, but you may still need to update the drive firmware, or something.

As usual, pirates don't need to deal with any of this stuff. They just download a rip (or make their own rips from discs that they own, which in many countries is now just as illegal as downloading...), and play it pretty much just like any other video file on any computer that's got the horsepower to handle HD video.


PSU-power question the third

I recently bought a 256Mb Inno3D GeForce 8800 GT and have fallen in love with it, so I'm going to buy a second one to run in SLI. What's the recommended PSU wattage for running these two cards?

I currently have the following setup:

Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3P
Zalman 460w PSU with 2x PCI-E video connectors
Intel Core2 Quad Q9550
2 Sata HDDs
2 ATA devices (optical drive and HDD)
4gb DDR2 RAM
Inno3d 8800GT


After I put this page up, a reader pointed out something I'd missed - because Arun's motherboard has an Intel chipset, it can't run Nvidia graphics cards in SLI mode. There now are SLI-supporting Intel chipsets, starting with Skulltrail, but the iP45 chipset is not among them. So the PSU is not going to be the limiting factor, here.

That said: 460 watts is definitely on the low side for a pair of 8800 GTs, even the slightly-less-demanding 256Mb version. Two of them together will still only actually draw about 150 watts peak, so you might be fine with a genuine 460-watt PSU - given that Zalman PSUs actually are, I think, pretty close to being able to genuinely deliver their rated power. But Nvidia's "recommendations" for twin 8800 GTs don't dip below 600 somewhat-honestly-specified watts.

Nothing ought to explode if your current PSU's inadequate; games will just crash. If they do, get yourself a 650-watt-plus PSU from a reputable brand, as mentioned above.

Australian shoppers can purchase all sorts of PC graphics gear from Aus PC Market.
Click here to order!