Bathrones Computer Guide for Star Wars Galaxies.rtf

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					         Bathrone's Computer Guide for Star Wars Galaxies
                                              Version 0.1

I’ve been reading on the official SWG boards various problems people are reporting, mainly to do with
crashes and performance issues. This has been going on since I became involved in beta, and has
accelerated as SWG was released. In keeping with the traditions of the Internet the signal to noise ratio
on these things is pretty poor. There is allot of bogus advice, superstitions, sacred cows or simply flat out
wrong comments being made. Within the advice, some of it is good.

Following bad advice could well make your PC worse, requiring further time to eventually resolve the
problems. The great majority of issues I’m seeing raised are problems that are not the games fault. The
fault of the great majority of problems in the retail version of SWG being reported on the various forums is
to do with:

        1. Bad hardware
        2. Poorly configured firmware or software
        3. Poorly configured SWG client game play settings.

These guide servers to address these frequently asked questions on SWG crashes and performance. I
am also confident that people who are having problems, if you follow this guide carefully you will make
progress to getting it fixed, or at least having the situation better understood.

Section 1: Crashes, Lockups, and Reboots
Computer problems can come from many different sources. There was a time in the development of SWG
that the client had stability problems. As the development process moved on, successive versions of the
client and successive testing of the client brought about a solid, robust client that was released shortly
before the game retail launch. This is how the systems development lifecycle works - during development
the bits of code are written (inesrt nerdy punk joke) to certain specifications, and then various phases of
testing is conducted, with the process being repeated many times until the specifications are being
proven in the test results. Most of us are aware that this systems development process is not foolproof,
and that sometimes things of varying severity slip through in retail versions. That being said, by the time
of release of any machine I tried to play SWG that exceeded the minimum requirements, I could do so
without ever crashing, locking or rebooting. People’s machines I have looked at who complained about
crashing in SWG, the three things I have mentioned above caused them all - they were not actual
problems with the SWG client.

People who are not qualified in these things often say, ".... but this is the only thing on my computer that
crashes it". On various forums you often then have a succession of immature people who then whine
about them having the problem too ranting about how the development team are incompetent and so on.
Its usually about now the sacred cows and superstitions start being posted, like claims that you must not
use Ati graphics cards or that everyone with an AMD Barton CPU has this problem. You may start to see
the more dangerous advice being given, such as a suggestion to run significantly over voltage into the
AGP.

The reality is that if any of the key components such as CPU, memory, power, thermal and so on are not
up to standard, it will lead to crashes, lockups and reboots. You therefore must have programs that will
test these elements of the computer. Here is one of the real truths to it. No one program stresses the
same or all components of a computer, the same way. Different programs will demand different things
from your computer. Just because your Internet browser doesn’t crash but SWG does, is no reason to
think that your computer's RAM is not bad.

The first thing you must do if you are having crashes, lockups or reboots is to stop playing and start
thinking. Before you do anything else, you have to find out if your computer meets the minimum system
requirements. This is not trivial.

1.1 Making Sure You Meet The Minimum System Requirements
The SWG minimum system requirements can be found at
http://starwarsgalaxies.station.sony.com/faq.jsp?page=FAQ

If your now asking how do I find out what my computer's hardware is, Microsoft Windows has some
features that will help give you the information. There is an extension to Windows called DirectX. DirectX
is a set of multimedia tools programmers’ use. DirectX comes with one program, "dxdiag.exe", which will
give you information about your sound card, video card, CPU, memory and motherboard. You can run
dxdiag.exe by either searching for it, or in Windows XP / 2K choosing start menu, run, type in dxdiag and
hit enter. If you don’t have DirectX installed or you do not have the latest version of DirectX (currently
9.0a), go to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/directx and follow the instructions to download and install
it.

Within the DirectX diagnostic tool you will see on the various tabs that it lists different elements to your
computer. You’re going to need to analyze, to make sure, that you meet or exceed the minimum
requirements. If for example you are not certain if your video card meets the SWG minimum requirement
of being a "32 MB 3D Graphics card with Hardware Transform and Lighting (T&L) Capability" look at the
display tab. On mine, and yours might be different, it says I have a Radeon 9800 Pro, made by Ati
technologies. So now I could do a web search for Ati's website, go to their website and read the product
specifications for my video card. Shortly I find Ati are at http://www.ati.com/ and I have a wealth of
information at hand about it.

The DirectX diagnostic tool will not give you all the information that is handy to have. Another program,
this one is freeware, is called CPU-Z. You can get CPU-Z for free at http://www.cpuid.com/ and download
it. CPU-Z gives you important information about your motherboard's chipset, the memory timings, AGP
settings, CPU clock speeds and other things. Knowing these things about your hardware becomes much
more important later on when we get to configuring your machine correctly.

By the time you’ve gone through that, you know what hardware you’ve got. You’ve been able to confirm,
with certainty, that you meet or exceed the minimum system requirements. If you do not, face up to it.
Some people have come up with dodgy hacks to get around not having a T&L compatible video card for
example. This is not only unsupported, it’s unreliable and it’s pathetically slow. SWG has a marvelous
rendering engine that is just stunning. You need the minimum hardware level, at the minimum, to run it.
There is no silver bullets, and no free lunches.

So ok, you meet the minimum system requirements but youve still got problems. What do we do now?

1.2 Performing Stress Tests
You are going to have to accept that you must start running different purpose designed stress test
programs to establish what your computer can do, and what it cant. We don’t want to hear anymore
whining about "SWG is the only game that crashes my computer it must be the client". You are simply
unable to justify that position without establishing your computer can run stress tests without error. Just
because some other program does not crash, does not mean you do not have hardware or configuration
errors that stress tests will show.

As I said before, no one program will demand the same things of your computer as another. For these
stress tests I want to see you download, install, execute and run the following:

1.21 Prime95
Go to http://www.mersenne.org/freesoft.htm and download the freeware program Prime95. Install it. Run
it up, in the options pull down menu select torture test. If you have a SMP or hyperthreaded machine, I
want to see you run as many sessions of Prime95 as you have CPUs. So if you have a hyperthreaded
P4, you will have two Prime95 programs running at once. What is handy to have at this stage is a
program to monitor your various system temperatures, voltages and fan speeds. Often these programs
come with the utility disk of the motherboard box. Right, so you’ve got Prime95 running as many sessions
as you’ve got CPUs, your watching your temperatures and voltages. You’ll begin to notice that Prime95 is
really hammering your system's CPU, cache, memory and thermal capabilities. Let it run. You must be
able to run like this for at least a few hours, preferably a whole day. Prime95 will stop in torture test mode
if there is a problem. If Prime95 crashes or stops, you, without question, have a hardware or configuration
problem. Prime95 is not at fault. Prime95 knows what the numbers are that your computer was busily
figuring out. Your computer has messed it up.

Now, if Prime95 crashes, make a note of it, and move to section 1.22. I don’t tolerate errors in Prime95.
Some people are happy to not have Prime95 run because they argue they don’t crash otherwise. Well,
those systems are on the edge. Applications like SWG are demanding on a computer, and in my mind,
you don’t want to be on the edge. Just as your about to make the best PvP kill in recorded MMORPG
history, you'll crash, go LD in game and be killed - Murphy's Law and all. Its better to know, your not going
to crash in all reasonable circumstances.

If you pass Prime95, pass go, collect $200 and move on.

1.22 Memory Testing

Docmemory is a memory tester that can be downloaded at http://www.simmtester.com/ for free.
Download it, create the bootable floppy and run the tests in the full extended mode in a loop for a few
hours. Errors are not acceptable. Some people think they are. I don’t, and I’ve never been met with a
convincing argument as to how a robust computer involves flakey RAM.

If you fail the memory test, either your RAM is physically bad, or you are not operating the ram in firmware
or software with the correct configuration. Its better to hope you can fix it through adjusting the
configuration, and only if that fails, then accept the RAM is physically bad and must be replaced.

Now if you failed Prime95, and you failed Docmemory its reasonable to conclude that your RAM needs
attention. However, once you reach the point of fixing the RAM problems and passing all of the
Docmemory tests, go back now and see if Prime95 can run without failure. Never forget you might have
more than one problem giving you grief.

If you failed Prime95 but passed the memory test it’s now time to look at your CPU, thermal and power
supply situation. Confirm your heat sink is attacked properly on the mainboard. Confirm the CPU fan is
working. Confirm that the case is getting adequate ventilation into it. Start monitoring your temperatures
more carefully, and the voltages more carefully. Look at the rating on your power supply. Compare the
power supply rating with what Intel or AMD say you need on their websites. Never believe lucky dragon
super cheap bodge brothers power supply company you have a good power supply. Ensure you have a
proper cooling system in place that meets what Intel or AMD say you need. Once you’ve checked all of
these physical things, check out the section on configuring your firmware and software later in this guide.

If you pass both of these tests, get ready for the next level in giving your machine a hard time in a totally
different way.

1.23 3dmark03

By this point, if you’ve passed the other tests you know the memory; cache, CPU and some of the
thermal issues are under control with your machine. Here is where we get stuck into the video and sound
elements, and related things like the chipset and AGP settings. SWG uses DirectX, so logically we use a
DirectX application to get into stressing these elements of your machine out. The best DirectX application
for this is 3dmark03.

Go to http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark03/ and you can install the unregistered version, which
gives you basic access to what you need for free. Patch up your download to the latest version of
3dMark03, which is currently 330. Execute 3dmark03 by selection the run button. I want to see your
machine do this three times in a row without failure. You need to watch the screen while it’s running. Look
for any artificating. This means, look for dots on the screen that aren’t supposed to be there, and look for
weird bizarre shapes. The image should not be garbled, it should be correct to your eye. Listen to the
sound tests.

If you fail on 3dmark03 but pass on the other tests, it’s most likely a video card problem, chipset problem
or power supply problem. Check the power supply similar to section 1.22 but also look at what the
manufacturer of your video card has to say about power requirements as well. Ensure that your video
card is receiving adequate cooling. Beyond that, go to the section on configuring your firmware and
software later in this guide.

Now if you reached the point of passing Prime95, Docmemory and 3dmark03 with no problems at all, its
time to narrow on in towards your specific SWG client settings and other related firmware and software
configurations. You cannot, ever, justify claiming its specific to SWG without confirming that in fact, with
certainty, your machine will pass stress testing video, cpu, cache, memory, chipset and the thermal sides
of things.

Section 2: Configuring Firmware and Software

We now arrive at the subject of configuring your machine correctly. The dimensions to this are pretty
broad, and another problem is that what is correct for one person, is not necessarily correct for another.
So I’m going to look at correct being enough to get you happening in SWG reliably, or at the very least,
being able to hassle those vendors for the bits of your machine that are at fault for new fixes.

2.1 Items to Check
The following is an order of items to check, and to recheck that contribute to having a correctly configured
machine. Too many times I have seen people whining on forums about problems, and they flippantly
claim all their drivers are fine. When you get down to it, most of the time they are not fine. They either
have a wrong driver version, or have failed to install the right driver for other systems components. Sure,
there are times where there are real problems with drivers, and when this happens, its usually well known
that XYZ release of a video driver was buggy with XZY application. The point to this is that computers
never make mistakes - computers just do what they are told and its humans who make the mistakes.
Spend the time to configure it right.

2.1.1 BIOS

It all starts with the BIOS. You should have the latest retail release BIOS. Find your motherboard
manufacturer's website and discover what the current retail BIOS version is. Then pay attention to the
POST display on your machine and read what version BIOS your system is booting. You need the latest
BIOS release, and upgrading means you need to flash the firmware. Don't get excited now! Like
unprotected sex, it's risky and it could go bad. Yes there is danger if you stuff up the BIOS flash you’ll
have big problems. Just look at what you need to do, read about it, and think about it. Often motherboard
manufacturers have undocumented fixes or changes in their new BIOS releases. If your unsure about a
new release, hang around their support forum for a few days and see what the early adopters say about
it. My latest Abit IC7-G, the retail release BIOS was a bug where any manually set memory timings would
not be applied, it would just always do the SPD timings. This was so serious on that BIOS revision I
couldn’t even POST my machine with my dual channel installed DDR RAM. Don't underestimate the
importance of the chipset settings in the BIOS. So, to get my machine to even work, I had to flash the
firmware to the later revisions.
Now once you’ve flashed the BIOS to the latest release, go through every single BIOS setting. Make sure
you understand each setting and why you have set it that way. This can be confusing, but you can learn.
There is information within your motherboard manual, but also online. There is a good document at
http://www.rojakpot.com/ on BIOS settings. There are some specifically important things to make sure are
right here.

One of these is the voltage and clock setting. Bring your CPU back to factory clocks and voltage if you
overclocked or overvolted it, if your having problems. Make sure all the clock speeds and other settings
for your CPU, front side bus and memory are correct for your hardware. Don't be too quick to up the AGP
voltage. With a proper power supply there should be no need to raise the AGP voltage. Modern graphics
cards have modern semiconductors in them that are very sensitive to overvoltage - the micron of the
fabrication process keeps going down and that means more sensitivity to thermal and voltage conditions.
The same goes with your RAM voltage. RAM chips keep getting finer and finer in micron size during
fabrication and that means less and less tolerance of any crap you want to give the parts with heat and
volts. Also remember that increasing voltage means more wattage, and more wattage means more heat
which means more heat problems for your computer.

If you find your ram is flakey, you could try going from say 2-2-2-6 1cmd to 2-3-3-6 1cmd latency settings
for example.

With memory, I have been able to go to 2.7v on my DDR dual channel setup, which has given me some
more headroom to raise my front side bus speed. The key here is I have only gone a little way. I did the
same with my CPU voltage. I’ve done it because I have wanted to push my hardware for better
performance. Performance though means you actually need to have it run, not cook and die. Sometimes
memory will not work at "rated" clock rates with aggressive settings.

Disable everything that is not needed. Any device takes up system resources. As well, you dont want to
introduce unuecessary overheads like running both an onboard sound and a soundcard at the same time.

Within the BIOS is they key to most of the memory and CPU related configuration failures. Get it right.
Once you think you might have fixed a bad configuration, go and repeat all the stress tests again.

2.1.2. Operating System

Within the operating system there is some key elements that are vital to a good configuration. These are:

          (i) Chipset drivers. With the information from CPU-Z, go to the companies website and download
their latest chipset drivers. Try not to go to your motherboard makers website. They often are behind in
updating the drivers. Find who makes your chipset and go there. In my case, my Abit IC7-G uses the Intel
875P chipset. On Intel’s website is an INF chipset install utility and also the RAID version application
accelerator that I downloaded and installed for my chipset. Here's another example for you - before I
installed these on a freinds machine who was having problems, he kept crashing 3dmark03. Why?
Because the AGP wasn’t configured right and any 3d applications would bomb out because of it. Part of
the chipset install was for instructing the AGP port how best to deal with the rest of the machine. Now he
has AGP 8x, fast writes and side band addressing all enabled through AGP with it running rock solid.
Don’t confuse chipset drivers with video drivers. AGP drivers are a chipset issue.

         (ii) Video drivers. Visit your video card manufacturers website. By this, I mean, who actually made
your graphics chip not who bundled it with a board. Like not going to your motherboard makers website,
go to the maker of the chip to get the drivers. They simply have a much larger customer base than XZY
repackager, and tend to be more on top of what the problems are and more likely to be current with good
drivers.

        (iii) Sound drivers. If you’ve got onboard sound, most of the time the chipset drivers will also have
the correct sound drivers in them. If you’ve got a soundcard, go to their website and download the latest
release drivers.

        (iv) DirectX. Make sure you have the latest version of DirectX, being 9.0a currently.

         (v) Service packs and other OS releases. On windows, visit http://www.windowsupdate.com and
you will be redirected to the windows update center for a customized view of recommended and critical
updates.

         (vi) Other drivers. Things such as keyboard, mouse, network and so forth you need drivers as
well. Identify all of your hardware and ensure that you have installed the latest drivers suitable for that
hardware.

2.1.3. Network

There have been some rare instances of specific network hardware needing to be flashed in firmware
when playing SWG. I understand some beta testers had a Linksys modem/router product that required a
firmware upgrade to fix a disconnection problem. The good thing about networking is that it is well logged
and easier to diagnose than elusive hardware failures like flakey memory. Sony seems to be very reliable
when it comes to packet loss and ping times. Testing I have done has demonstrated that its been my ISP
when I have experienced rare packet loss or ping problems. A quick look at my IPS's outage page on
those occasions has shown temporary problems with their network.

Think of the Internet as a collection of vast plumbing pipes, all of which different sizes and running
different pressures.

There is much detail that is beyond the scope of this guide to do with firewall and router configurations.
Stateful packet filtration and other techniques for managing networks can interfere with you connecting to
SWG. I may at a later stage write another guide about network issues with SWG, although such things
come up only rarely.

Section 3: SWG Performance
I can't help but chuckle on occasion when someone pipes up with a DirectX 8 generation video card
whining about low FPS scores while claiming they have fast hardware. The other thing that regularly
happens is someone will come along and claim they have all the settings maxed and remain at 25-30
FPS at all times, even in the busiest city.

Here’s the reality - if you meet the minimum requirements you can have a playable experience if you turn
down the eye candy and sound. Here’s the second dimension to it - with any technology available today
you will not be able to max all the settings and have a playable experience. I like this feature - it is a
forward looking rendering and sound engine that is capable of holding its own for awhile to come.

What I find is that people who claim they have maxed all the settings don’t enable Full Screen Anti
Aliasing 4x and Anisotropic Filtering 16tap. They don’t enable volumetric shadows. They enable player
visual quality reduction at long distances. My main multimedia PC has a below zero cooling system, it is
highly customized and I would be surprised to see more than a handful of people on SWG with faster
PCs. The other issue is that within the sliders of the SWG client options, what maximum actually is, is not
universally applicable to all clients it is adjusted based on your own hardware. Extensive testing has
shown that you can't run with all eye candy and sound maxed, and always have an FPS higher than 15 at
all times on todays hardware. Sure you can have a glorious visual experience, but its not everything the
engine has got.

So, performance in SWG ultimately becomes an issue of balancing eye candy and sounds, to what your
particular machine can do. I’ve tested it on machines that aren’t much above the minimum requirements,
and other machines that are very fast. On very fast machines you can run more eye candy, on slower
machines you reduce it for performance.

On lower end machines to reduce the significant memory requirements, enable the low detail textures,
turn off shadows, disable texture baking and bring the in game option sliders down. Enable power saving
options such as low detail characters at a distance. These options are found in the launch pad and others
are found in the internal game options.You will find the rendering settings for DirectX within the driver tab
for your video card, such as enabling FSAA and AF. What will really kill you is allot of thrashing to disk for
virtual memory. You must reduce the amount of data in graphics and sound your lower end machine has
to cope with. The reason is that RAM is thousands of times faster than hard disk storage, so you need to
keep it in RAM.

With lower end machines you will benefit alot from saving as many systems resources as possible. Apart
from disabling any uneeded items within the BIOS, at the OS desktop terminate all unecessary processes
in task manager. Shutdown services that are chewing your system away that you don't need. Services
are like programs, except they can be set to run automatically and operate "in the backround" to the user.
By default in Windows 2000 and XP many of the services are not actually needed that are loaded on
every boot. There is a website found here http://www.blackviper.com/index.html that has a range of
articles explaining what the various services do.

On high end machines I found that volumetric shadows and the high detail terrain distance slider were the
two core performance drainers.



Well, that wraps up my guide. This version is the first, so if you have any feedback I’m at
rotfler@ozemail.com.au however be advised my time is not unlimited to respond to specific questions so I
might not be able to reply to you all. I present this guide to the public domain and you may distribute it as
you see fit without modification.

				
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