Velocity Micro: Raised From the Dead

That’s right – technology miracles do happen! And, that’s right, I had a bizarre setup for that boot test. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Acting on the suggestion of my contact at Velocity Micro, I took off that massive Zalman cooler and looked at the CPU – it was partially dislodged and some of the CPU pins were bent. I carefully bent the pins back (it’s microsurgery without the benefit of cameras or view magnification) and put the CPU back in, placing the Zalman cooler loosely on top. Much to my amazement, the damn thing booted up! It gave me a warning about a “degraded RAID configuration”, but thankfully it still booted into Windows Vista.

After finding some instructions on how to properly re-assemble the cooler on Zalman’s Web site, I put the computer back together and gave it a more proper setup. This machine will be used as a media center, so it will eventually end up in the corner of my office attached to my Dell 26″ LCD TV. Now that it’s actually up and running though – wow – it’s a screamer! Vista absolutely flies on this thing. Check out these Windows Experience Index scores:

This is the first Windows Vista computer I’ve seen where the CPU is the lowest part of the score. And when you consider that the CPU in question is an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 5000+, running at 2.6 Ghz, the CPU is by no means “slow”. It’s the most powerful CPU I have at my disposal now. I’m not sure if it’s the 65 nanometre or 90 nanometre version – I suspect the 65nm, but I’m waiting on a confirmation of that from Velocity Micro.

So how do I feel about this machine? Well, because the process of actually getting it working was so incredibly frustrating, I have a hard time feeling much warm toward it. But I’ll admit that as I used it – with that glorious 24″ Dell monitor attached – I found my cold heart melting a bit. This is one bad ass computer.

In terms of my feelings about Velocity Micro…let’s just say that I wouldn’t order a PC from them with my own money. Don’t get me wrong: the people I dealt with at Velocity Micro were all fantastic. They were polite, helpful, and quick to get back to me (after a slow start). They worked with me to return the first two PCs, and got me the replacements in a reasonable timeframe. This isn’t about the people, however, it’s about the computer. If I had paid $3000 USD for this computer (that’s the approximate value of it) out of my own pocket, and had to go through everything that I went through, I’d be livid. Because this computer was free, I’ve been forcing myself to be more relaxed and forgiving than I’d normally be.

In looking at this machine, I can’t gloss over the design flaws: they put a drive cage in it that was too heavy for the screws holding it in, and they put a cooling unit that’s so big and heavy it can dislodge the CPU during shipping. 99.9% of computer users out there are not going to be comfortable with removing a CPU cooler, cleaning off the thermal paste, bending pins on the CPU back to normal, re-seating the CPU, re-applying the thermal paste, and re-assembling the CPU cooler. That’s just plain ugly.

I’ve heard good things about Velocity Micro over the years, so I can only hope that this system and the problems I had with it isn’t representative of what most Velocity Micro customers would experience. I noticed that they don’t even offer the Zalman cooler with this system when you order it from their Web site: the only choice is a Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro. So hopefully that means that others won’t experience the problems I have here.

As much as I wish I could start using this right away, I have to spend some time to re-install Vista. Why? Well, AMD had Velocity Micro (or Microsoft – I’m not sure which) put Vista Ultimate 64-bit on there…and my Featured Communities peers have had nothing but trouble with drivers on 64-bit. I’m not 100% sure about this, but I believe that Vista 64-bit will only accept drivers that have been digitally signed…and we all know how often drivers are actually signed. And since I haven’t been told by anyone why I’d actually need/want 64-bit Vista (and believe me, I asked) I’m just going to put the trusty 32-bit version of Vista on there. I need a driver disc from Velocity Micro for that though – they forgot to pack the main accessories box in this last shipment – so at the moment I can’t do much but stare at the machine…which isn’t such a bad thing. This is one nice computer.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention one important thing. The USB ports on the front of the machine aren’t working at all, so I’m going to try and troubleshoot that…but if I can’t get it working properly, guess what that means. Round four! I really, realy hope that doesn’t happen… ๐Ÿ™