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Prepare for compatibility issues?

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November 21, 2010 9:47:45 AM

How important are random compatibility issues between components? Can you avoid them beforehand?

When I built my first PC, NVidia's TNT cards were fairly new (TNT2 was out I think, but quite expensive), and they were known to have some compatibility issues with various motherboards. What I did was a small unscientific study, asking some questions and counting the problems reported in various threads. This gave me a list of problematic card/mobo combinations. I think I may have gone with Asus+Asus in the end, because that was a fairly compatible combination by my counts - didn't have major problems in the start, just some little stuff like the windows background sometimes turning blue when it was set to green... and some issues with a couple of games, but that was normal at the time.

We've had a few builds in the family since then, a Geforce build worked fine and I can't actually recall it having any problems - but later machines built with a GF2GTS, and 2 with Ati cards all developed some significant problems at some point. All seemed pretty much to be h/w or driver related.

What can you do to reduce such problems beforehand? Should you do a good google search for possible problems, check the particular motherboard's forums, etc for compatibility with your GPU and other components?

Note that I DO NOT mean basic homework like:

1. Checking that you have the right type and number of RAM sticks
2. Compatibility of slots, buses, cables etc.
3. Adequate PSU
4. Correct CPU type for the mobo
5. Making sure your HSF and GPU fit in the case, by figuring out from the measurements or asking around on the forums
6. Going with parts known to be of a high quality brand (quality brand is subjective though)

However, checking the mobo vendor's documentation for compatibility tested parts and using the configurators etc on the RAM manufacturer's site could go a long way. But essentially I think the information should come from the user community - who is experiencing problems with the combination of parts X, Y, Z and whether it's suspected to be a compatibility issue.

Does any site track such information?
a b B Homebuilt system
November 21, 2010 1:29:33 PM

The trouble with this kind of data is its difficult to separate anecdotal issues from real, systemic problems.

For example (based on my own memory), we see a fair number of "memory" issues preventing boot-up on new builds. Frequently, the memory manufacturer is OCZ or Corsair. Its rare to see a similar issue where the user installed, eg, Mushkin or G.Skill.

But what does that mean? The memory kits are all different model numbers, and we don't track the actual chips or circuitry used on the sticks. Do many, many more enthusiasts or folks who would come here use OCZ or Corsair memory? Dunno. It would be irresponsible to generalize.

Anyhow, about the only "incompatability" issue I can think of that is likely to gain general agreement here is . . . "At the current time, don't run SLI on an AMD board." Eventually it seems you run into one issue or another.

Maybe others who frequently help out here will comment.
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November 23, 2010 8:49:12 PM

Twoboxer said:
But what does that mean? The memory kits are all different model numbers, and we don't track the actual chips or circuitry used on the sticks. Do many, many more enthusiasts or folks who would come here use OCZ or Corsair memory? Dunno. It would be irresponsible to generalize.


Yes I think it would be almost meaningless to generalize, beyond making some subjective judgement on the quality of a brand. What one would do would be to look for problems with component X version Z (or Z1..Z3), searching if problems are reported on various forums. Maybe there would be a systematic pattern.

What else can we do?

Well, troubleshooting may be a bit easier than it was many years ago. It seems we have some excellent troubleshooting guides on these forums, thanks to the vets who put in the big effort to create them! So - maybe it would be possible to isolate the problematic component in the case any issues show up. But that requires work and you need to be able to spell it out to the store convincingly.

Or, you could get your core components from the same store - I'm thinking of at least mobo, RAM and GPU. I would think it's most common for the mobo and any of the 2 others to be incompatible with each other. CPU and PSU would be less likely - and if either is defective, the symptoms should be relatively easy to identify. At the end of the day, you can either point out the faulty component or walk to the store and say "I don't care if it's the GPU or the mobo... but it's something from YOU". So - sounds like a good plan? If only you can execute it - I for example am looking to build a system with a GPU that is not easily available, so I might want to get it separately, which then might make the strategy moot, and it would be sensible to just hunt for the lowest price for each component.
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a b B Homebuilt system
November 23, 2010 9:23:27 PM

varis said:
What one would do would be to look for problems with component X version Z (or Z1..Z3), searching if problems are reported on various forums. Maybe there would be a systematic pattern.
There's another issue that makes gathering this data nearly meaningless. At worst, people lie. At near-best, they don't tell you everything. So, we can identify that a part needed to be replaced, but we do not know why.

Does that bad RAM stick have a coffee stain on it? Is the pcb on the bad vid card cracked? Were those bad parts fried by a $20 850W psu?

IOW, should a parts vendor get the blame? If so, which vendor gets the blame?

varis said:
What else can we do? . . . So - maybe it would be possible to isolate the problematic component in the case any issues show up. But that requires work and you need to be able to spell it out to the store convincingly.
Yes, it requires work. And that work is what allows self-built to be a better value than a brand name. If you are not willing to run the risk, do the work, then buy from Dell.

Frankly, its amazing all these parts bought from different manufacturers go together successfully at all lol.

varis said:
Or, you could get your core components from the same store - I'm thinking of at least mobo, RAM and GPU. . . . At the end of the day, you can either point out the faulty component or walk to the store and say "I don't care if it's the GPU or the mobo... but it's something from YOU". So - sounds like a good plan?
I think the stores would very quickly, and quite correctly say "Are you telling me all these parts don't work? If you want us to troubleshoot the build, our charge is $75/hr with a 3 hour minimum. Or next time you can buy a PC from us fully assembled and tested."

It comes down to this: You are buying parts. Nothing more. If you can show they don't work as intended, and *you* were not the cause of the problem, you'll get a replacement or a refund. And frankly, most vendors/manufacturers usually go a step further, even though they shouldn't :) 
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December 1, 2010 5:04:24 AM

Best answer selected by varis.
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