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White Hawk
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: out of nowhere...
Insane since: May 2004

posted posted 08-09-2004 22:05

I know this isn't a tech' forum, but I felt like venting, so I've posted this here in Philosilly. I'd be happy to acknowledge my mistake if anyone feels it is in the wrong place.

It's been a long week, so forgive the abuse of brackets. I thought I'd share a rather trivial tale...

I was just dying to get myself a surround system for my PC, so I forked out for a cheap SBLive! 5.1 card and a 6.1 Creative surround-sound speaker set. Oh joy! I couldn't possibly go wrong with such an established brand, surely?

...or so I thought.

It would appear that this range of cards is known for not playing well with... well, anything!

I have been having choppy-sound days, but worse are the random and completely unpredictable lockups ('orrible squealing sound loop and unresponsive system - only choice is to hit the hardware reset) during *graphics-intensive applications.

(* - a clue!)

My humble little system is:
AMD XP 1800+ CPU, 512MB RAM, 128MB NVidia GeForce FX5600xt (8xAGP - redundantly), 60GB HD, Mercury (Phillips 7130) TV Tuner card, 3COM 3C905B-TX-M 10/100 NIC, SBLive! Player 5.1 (SB0060), NEC USB 2.0 card, NEC DVD+-R/RW, Artec CDR/RW, (there is more but most has been begrudingly shed in my battle against the SBLive! gremlins) - and it is all bolted onto my previous trusty old ECS K7S5a rev 3.1 mainboard (SiS735 chipset with 4xAGP port), running Windows XP.

Now, I have tried everything from changing sound (and even video) hardware acceleration levels to shoe-horning in a range of drivers, swapping Creative and MS drivers, switching bus mastering on and off (which technically shouldn't make a difference to Windows anyway), and disabling anything and everything that I am not using right at this moment. I have swapped the card back and forth (leading my PCI inventory on a waltz of endless permutation), I have tried using the vfw drivers for the TV card rather than the WDM ones (just in case therein lies the the conflict).

I have the latest drivers (WHQL or otherwise) for EVERYTHING, have upgraded to the latest BIOS version (then updated the firmware on anything that could be flashed), and I've even underclocked that cheap little FX card on a desperate whim.

Finally, I have come to the conclusion that it has just got to be a similar issue to an infamous VIA problem with this card. PCI latency!

VIA released a 4-in-1 driver update which was supposed to disable a 'feature' blamed for the cause of ear-splitting static, crackling, choppy sound, and random lockups.

In VIA's case, the issue relates to PCI latency settings (in layman's terms, a portion of bus-time reserved by devices - a value that counts-down at the rate of the PCI clock). While the SBLive! is a bus-hog, the VIA's little featurette (a tweak that raises the priority on traffic that has timed out) becomes inundated (leading to choppiness/crackling as the audio device gets queued-up), overwhelmed (ARGH! WTF IS THAT NOISE?!?), and eventually, triggers a unrecoverable lockup (usually with a loud and constant looping squeal of some sort).


For some VIA owners with a little savvy, it isn't hard to make use of registry settings supported by the patch to tweak their PCI latency values (which can be done 'on the fly', for testing purposes). This functionality is available in a lot of BIOS software... which is entirely academic anyway, as Windows blithely ignores the BIOS settings and allows PCI devices to determine their own latency values.

Nice feature, huh?

The crux of my unfortunate problem is that I have no native way of manipulating PCI latency on my soon-to-be-cremated SiS-based mainboard, anyway, and there is no such thing as a patch for manipulating/correcting PCI latency problems with SiS mainboards.
...and why should there be? I haven't had this problem with anything else (though I discovered the hard way that some VIA USB2.0 PCI cards simply refuse to work with Windows XP, despite claims to the contrary).
I don't think I can blame SiS for this, so I won't.

I'm pretty disappointed with Creative, though. I only purchased their card because I expected such a name to uphold its reputation (one that doesn't seem so clean to me now). I wish I'd done some research first, as I can see now that the Live! series were doomed long ago, and that Creative appear incapable/unwilling to do anything about it any more (despite continuing to sell EMU10K1(M)-based cards with the XP logo displayed proudly on the packaging).

Anyway, I think I have just three options remaining:
1) Trash the SBLive! and buy something 'un-Creative'.
2) Wait for the ever-elusive fix (though the problem is sporadic and hard to replicate, therefore hard to solve - which is why a lot of customers have been waiting for the last year).
3) Find a utility that will allow me to alter my latency values, and hope...

Now, 1) is out of the question. Having been charged THREE times for a single order over four days (fraudulantly, if you ask me) so clocking up £70 in bank charges (which thankfully, they waived as a "gesture of good will" considering the circumstances - yeah right, you f***wit - you look after my money you jumped up little pri... *cof*), spent a week chasing my refund and an apology, only to discover that this piece of crap covered in a forest of hot, low-grade capacitors, is not even capable of performing its task to an acceptable standard... I will not be beaten by a SoundBlaster!

So, while I await a miracle cure from the source, I've found a neat little utility called, simply, LtcyCfg.exe. It was designed for correcting problems with Maya audio cards with similar conflicts - but functions perfectly for anything else you might wish to apply it to. It allows you to set (manually/automatically) the latency on any PCI device within the Windows environment.

Having had a quick look at it, I can see that my FX5600 latency is set to 249 (which has always produced a warning in SiSoft Sandra, funnily enough, but I've never been too bothered about it before)! It's a shot in the dark, but others have seen excellent results by setting this to around 100 (though anything above 64 is generally considered risky).

By lowering my FX's latency and raising the sound card's, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I might finally have found a solution. I'll raise the SBLive!'s latency incrementally until I'm content that there are no further crashes (if it makes any difference at all).

So far, with no loss of performance in either device, I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can actually get to the end of an Enemy Territory campaign.

I'm off to play. Wish me luck!

I'll be back to update this on my progress, so if anybody has any comments , or even ideas (I can't have tried everything yet, surely), in the meantime...?.

(Edited by White Hawk on 08-09-2004 22:13)

White Hawk
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: out of nowhere...
Insane since: May 2004

posted posted 08-11-2004 14:26

Not that anyone cares, but I do believe I have it!

I now have my soundcard's PCI latency timing set slightly higher than the graphics card. I tried my best to make it crash out - I overclocked the GPU, then ran a couple of games at once, and had MP3s playing in the background for about five hours.

No crash, no lockup, nothing. I'm well chuffed.

There has been a pleasant side-affect too. Even without the overclock, my framerate has increased between 10-25% in various Direct3D games! On top of that, my CPU is running cooler!!


Maniac (V) Mad Scientist

From: :morF
Insane since: May 2000

posted posted 08-13-2004 04:07

Good for you mate! I always like ot see the answers occur to someone in a flash

White Hawk
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: out of nowhere...
Insane since: May 2004

posted posted 08-13-2004 13:32

Thanks Skaarjj. I was obviously looking for a pat on the back by someone, eh?

In simple conclusion, this little tool may help with any number of locking/freezing and sound performance problems in other systems. My NVidia card's latency timer was set way too high, and the SoundBlaster card was fighting for bus-time, which led to the mainboard freezing up. The high latency timer of one device was causing havoc with another device.

As I have not previously set the timers, then it is reasonable to assume that the NVidia card sets its own timer this high by default, which is bound to lead to problems sooner or later as other high-performance bus-mastering devices are intstalled.

I doubt that this is a problem unique to my NVidia/SBLive! comination, so if anybody else has been having similar lockup problems since purchasing a soundcard, graphics card - or anything else for that matter - and no driver/patch seems to help, then this tool may be found here, or here.

BE WARNED however, that this tool gives the user access to settings that could potentially cause damage for which I cannot be held responsible (seeing as I'm just the messenger anyway).

Just to note - I left my AGP timer set to 64, raised my sound card to 128 (the lowest setting that did not produce choppy sound), and lowered my graphics card to 104 (which may be a little low, but I'm still testing). I also lowered the SBLive!'s MIDI port latency timer to 32 as it really doesn't require an awful amount of bus time. I'm still astounded by the performance gain overall, as everything from folder refreshes to program loading times seem significantly improved!

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