Nvidia Drove Me Slightly Nuts

I hung a projector in the St. John’s computer lab, and wanted the computer lab teacher computer to drive it. I wanted a dual-monitor setup so the flat panel on the table would be extended to the projector. This requires either a VGA splitter (which doesn’t support extending), or a dual-port card (say, with a DVI and a VGA port), or two cards in the machine. I had a dual-port Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 card that I thought would do the trick.

But first, I had a Gateway E4100 at the lab teacher position. This computer had a motherboard VGA port that was disabled, and an add-on AGP 8X VGA card. The first thing I tried to do was turn on the motherboard port. Usually this is one in BIOS. Not a bit of luck. I downloaded the Intel manual for the mobo and read it to try to find a setting, or a jumper, or anything. Nothing. Somehow, the Air Force (which bought the computer originally, before we got it as a donation) had the mobo video disabled, I wish I knew how.

Try two. I pulled the existing single-port AGP card and replaced it with the FX 5200. It came up OK and had both LCD and projector video. I had some “serious problem” reports, and traced them to USB drivers for devices that were not in the lab any more. I took the offending drivers out, and now the system was fully stable. It only had XP SP2, so I decided to upgrade it. I took the machine home to work on it there, and it spent a couple of hours in the house getting SP3. After SP3 was in, I rebooted, and the machine utterly failed. It would come up in safe mode. I spent some time deleting a lot of stuff that I thought the machine didn’t need, then fired it up again, and it died again. And again. Safe mode was still working, but erratically.

Finally I got frustrated with the Gateway, and started again on Try three, with a generic PC that we had bought back in 2005. This machine only had SP1 on it, so I started an update. It was the same thing, the card died after SP3 was loaded.

Now, I didn’t realize those two SP3 items at the time. Both of these machines had been loaded with a LOT of weird software, and had many installs and uninstalls over the past years. I thought that was the cause of the instability.

At home, we have a Dell Dimension 4600 sitting and not doing anything. I decided to try it. It needed a disk, so I slammed a spare 80GB in and started a clean XP load. It was all working fine, until I updated to… SP3. At this point I realized I had a trend. I did some research on compatibility between the FX 5200 and XP SP3, and didn’t find any indications of a known problem (that’s after reading release notes, driver notes, forums, etc.). I thought about it for a bit, and decided to see what would happen if I just killed the Nvidia driver.

So I booted into safe mode, started Add/Remove Programs, and deleted the drivers. Second, I went into System and Device Manager, and deleted the Nvidia card under Display Adapters. Third, I did a scan for new hardware. Windows found the Nvidia card, asked if it could hit the internet for drivers, I said NO, and it installed a generic VGA driver. Finally, I moved the generic Windows Nvidia driver off to another directory. Now, I left the computer up and running in safe mode for a while, downloaded some stuff, and ran some programs. All working well. I rebooted eventually, both the monitors came up, and Windows booted all the way and is working well.

I’ve since loaded some more software on the machine, and done some more updates, and now the machine has been running several hours driving two screens, just like I want.

So there is some bad incompatibility between the Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 card, XP SP3, and the Nvidia driver software. The Microsoft generic driver also has some issue. Zorching them and using the lowest-common-denominator VGA driver is a less-than-elegant workaround, but I have two monitors with 1024×768, and that’s the bottom line.

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2 Responses to “Nvidia Drove Me Slightly Nuts”

  1. Tom Says:

    You don’t seem to have mentioned what projector you had, i’ve had similar problems (frequently) dealing with Epson projectors. The same machines worked just fine with other brands….

  2. Bill Hensley Says:

    The projector in question is a Sony, fairly new. I ruled it out as the problem quickly, as the problem stayed with the computer with several other displays.

    The machine is fully updated now, EXCEPT an updated video driver. I’m going to let it run a couple more days, then take a checkpoint, let Windows Update update the driver, and see if it dies or not.

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