VIEWS: 3 PAGES: 7 POSTED ON: 12/5/2012
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
"Bathrones Computer Guide for Star Wars Galaxies.rtf"