Graphics card upgrade: Hello GTX 1080

Almost four years ago(!) I built a small-ish games machine initially exclusively for playing Elite: Dangerous. Since then my PC games diet kind of exploded and more recent releases such as Far Cry 5 have been pushing the limits of my trusty GTX 970, manifesting as regular brief pauses at really inopportune moments during peggie takedowns.

So I turned to Ebay and found a nice new GTX 1080 8GB card. Oh boy, is this thing smooth at ultra settings? Yes. Yes it is. Smoother than Jackson’s and Alien Ant Farm’s criminals combined. Smoother even than Sade’s operator.

Unwrapping it revealed a sizeable card, fronted with two large fans compared to the 970’s three. But aside from being a few mm taller than the 970, it was pretty much the same form factor. Which was a relief because I’d seen a few questions from 1080 buyers asking if they’d fit in a micro-ITX sized case (mine’s a Cooler Master Elite 120) and it seems that some of these cards might be too big.

But the Elite 120 case is a great small form factor box, and although everything’s pretty tightly packed inside once the CPU cooler and drives are mounted and connected, it leaves the gfx card on an outside edge, so it’s not too painful to swap out.

First thing then, disconnect all cables from the box then get the outer shell off, then before doing anything else, attach an anti-static strap. If you don’t have one, make sure you get a good grip of the chassis to make sure you’re earthed.

But seriously, get a strap – they’re only a few pounds and could save you hundreds.

It’s probably sensible to look at your setup and figure out how the extraction of

your old card is going to go before you start pulling at anything.

I figured mine would lift up then the bottom end would come forward and sit on the anti-static foam from the new card’s packaging. Then I’d unplug the power connectors and job done!

And that’s pretty much how it went. Once I’d remembered to undo the locking mechanism on the back (right hand side in this image) of the PCI-E slot. Also make sure to remove the PCI-E connector cover and the Zero Frozr fan sticker!

The extra height of the 1080 made for a bit of coaxing to get it seated properly, and then the power connectors pressed up against the quick-release lever for the DVD drive, which put some unwanted pressure on the card/mobo interface.

Fortunately the lever was quick to remove and replace with regular screws.

So that’s it – a nice simple swap out and, having already had the Geforce software on the machine, as soon as Windows rebooted (initially in a low resolution mode) it got to work detecting the new card and switched back to regular HD.

I’m only running it at 1920 x 1080 so even with full ultra everything enabled in the games I’ve tried so far I’m getting a rock-solid frame rate, only about two thirds of the VRAM are used and those two fans are barely making any noise.

Best of all, no more missed headshots because of dropped fractions of seconds. Awesome.

Bring on Read Dead Redemption 2!


MSI Z87I Fail

MSI-Z871MoboHaving built a new gaming PC for Elite:Dangerous, and fitted it into the C-64 box, things were going well. But then the wheels fell off.

As yet I don’t know exactly what happened but here’s a rundown of events (as accurately recalled as possible);

  1. Day 1 – Install Windows 7.1 downloaded from a genuine Microsoft site.
  2. Install all the MSI drivers and utility software that shipped with the Z87I.
  3. Install Elite:Dangerous (the early preview build released for beta premium backers).
  4. Play E:D for about 20 minutes. Stop, restart system and check CPU temp. Looks fine (about 40°C, default max before thermal protection shutdown is 70°C).
  5. Shutdown the PC and let Windows install 113 updates.
  6. Day 2 – Boot up again and start up E:D.
  7. Play E:D for about 10 minutes – system crashed.
  8. Try to restart but refused to boot. Keeps powering on and then off again endlessly.
  9. Power off and wait 20-30 minutes.
  10. Power on again. Boots ok.
  11. Play E:D for about 2 hours.
  12. Shut down – and install more Windows updates.
  13. Day 3 – boot up, remove MSI-bundled Norton and replace with AVG antivirus. Everything ok.
  14. Day 4 – Install a Saitek X52 joystick (throttle and joystick set). Can only use throttle as cable missing from throttle to joystick.
  15. Everything’s working well for about 30 minutes then a hard crash – blue screen and system dump locks at about 30%
  16. The boot up problem is back – the board powers on and off about three or four times before eventually restarting.
  17. Re-launch E:D and everything seems to be ok.
  18. Day 5 – install new cable to connect joystick to throttle controller. Launch E:D. As soon as the joystick is used the game crashes. This is repeatable at least twice.
  19. Reboot. Again the powering on and off thing returns but it eventually restarts.
  20. Load up the joystick calibration application everything is fine until the joystick is moved, then another hard crash, BSOD.
  21. Now the reboot problem is back and it takes many on/off cycles until it comes back stating that all settings have beed reset to defaults.
  22. Re-install Saitek drivers and retry calibration. Hard crash, BSOD etc.
  23. Now the boot-up problem is back and system won’t restart.
  24. Perform a BIOS reset via the pushbutton on the back of the system. Reboots eventually after more on/off cycles and can enter the settings menus. Everything looks ok there – all default settings are in place (these haven’t been changed at any time along the way).
  25. Reboot again. On/off cycling happens endlessly.
  26. Power off. Clear CMOS using the jumper on the mainboard this time. Power on. Endless on/off cycling.
  27. Remove power.
  28. Remove memory modules and USB devices. Now back to bare board operation with the exception of the HDMI connector for the monitor.
  29. Replace one memory module. System boots. Shut down.
  30. Replace second memory module. System boots. Shut down.
  31. Replace USB keyboard. System boots. Shut down.
  32. Start up. System sounds like it boots, but no display.
  33. Restart several times, same behaviour. Shut down.
  34. Clear CMOS again. Restart.
  35. Again, sounds like it starts but no display. Shut down.
  36. Power on. System dead. No LEDs, no fan activity nothing.
  37. Disconnect everything except CPU. Wait a while. Clear CMOS. Reconnect all the things. Power on. Nothing.
  38. Cry a little.


Elite: Dangerous system build peripheral ideas

I was wondering if any of my tech-head buddies with an 80s pedigree might have one of these knocking around that they don’t want any more (spotted on ebay):

Commodore 1541 floppy drive


It doesn’t have to work because I’ll be gutting it anyway, just like the companion C64 mentioned over here.

If you have one, or know someone who does, and if you (or they) want to part with it, just let me know?

I’m also on the lookout for the classic Quickshot joysticks too, like this;

Quickshot joystick










A noob's Arduino adventure begins…

Last night I had my first play with an Arduino Uno and a couple of add-on shields, all purchased from HobbyTronics (

At first glance, it all looked nice and straightforward, a simple IDE, a raft of example source code and quite lively discussion boards dotted around t’internet.

So after the initial plug-in, and upload of “blink” (the hardware equivalent of “hello world”), the first task was to solder the stacking headers on to the three shields I hope to be playing with.

This lead to a hurried trip to Maplin in Camden after realising I didn’t have my soldering iron or associated paraphernalia to hand. Before long the soldering was done (with varying degrees of quality – it’s been a while since wielding a soldering iron in anger) and the time came to plug in the first shield: an XBee shield ( and WiFly module (

Everything seemed to be going well. The WiFly came to life and the LEDs suggested it was busily trying to lock on to the WiFi signal of my router, so a quick look over the user manual for clues as to how to configure the module to make a secure connection turned up some lengthy and initially confusing instructions concerning getting the thing into command mode. Thus after lots of reading, cross-referencing and downloading terminal applications, the little bugger still refused to open up and let me tell it what to do.

And that’s when the real confusion set in. Some blog posts claim that the WiFly isn’t compatible with the XBee shield, but they were posted about (I think) R2.x modules while I have an R3. Others say it won’t run properly on an Uno due to one of the SMT diodes which needs to be removed – a task I don’t think I have the tools or the eyes for any more.

But in true noob fashion I wasn’t going to believe any of that until I had reached the end of every line of investigation I could follow. So I set about finding example code libraries that programmatically set the WiFly into command mode, set up the appropriate network parameters and/or let me start entering commands from the terminal. This all looked great until the compilation errors started to show up. More reading from around the web pushed me to the conclusion that actually, v1.0 of the Arduino IDE “breaks most libraries”

FFS I think to myself. It’s now late, I’d like to see something working but I have to go off in search of an older IDE. Fortunately that didn’t take too long after some clicking around the website but even then, some of the library code I pulled from git had to be reorganised before it’d compile. For example, the main source files must be in a suitably named directory directly below /libraries, so having got a nicely structured src directory from git with a load of stuff under there I had to move it and bin the rest of the directory structure. After much head scratching eventually some of the library code did compile and could even be uploaded to the Uno, but still the damned WiFly wouldn’t give me the time of day with its UART so I’m beginning to think that the bloggers were right. Maybe the WiFly really isn’t suited to the shield that claims to be designed for it, at least when it’s mounted on a Uno R3.

But not to be too disheartened, I figured I’d give the LCD shield ( a go, as this was a self-contained board with well documented examples. More internet reading suggested that screens with a red tab most likely have the Epson driver on them, but in keeping with the tradition experienced so far of course this was not the case for my particular screen. At least my new old IDE compiled, uploaded and and ran the example screen demos perfectly. Sigh.

So that wrapped up a frustrating first evening with the Arduino. Admittedly I have quite a few more comments and suggestions to follow up on, and of course re-checking my soldering efforts, before writing off the otherwise impressive-looking WiFly, but that’s more hardware hacking, and I’m mostly a software kind of person these days.

I’ll write more, and maybe review this entry with more references and citations later on.