The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

Search the Blog of helios and all comments


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Oh Where Oh Where Have The AGP Slots Gone...?

One of the most frustrating things about rebuilding computers is getting the right video card for the machine. We are donated mostly Dells from the Dimension E series to the 8100 and 8200 series machines.

Guess what?

Michael decided that these machines didn't need AGP slots.

That in a word...


So, most of these machines come with either 810, 845, 915 or 945 video chipsets...Intel Chipsets. Now normally that would seem sufficient but as many of us who recently purchased the Penumbra Series of Frictional Games discovered.

They don't run for crap on these chipsets.

Now I am not building these machines for gameplay...they are intended to further the academic achievements of the kids who receive them. They are donated to kids who under any other circumstances would not have a computer. Yet, I want my kids to have full use of their machines. Just because they are disadvantaged is no excuse for me or anyone else to consider them as less than equal. I am not going to build them inferior stuff, nor is anyone associated with this program. This has come up in the past.

More than one of you have argued with me about this off-blog and stated that they should just be thankful they get anything at all. "Beggers can't be choosers", "That's just the way life is, deal with it", "They can just work in the service industry, not everyone needs access to a computer."...

More than one of you have been told never to darken my inbox again.

I work in an ongoing effort with many of these kids and the last thing they need is to feel that they are second-class because they were born into less than satisfactory financial situations.

So here is what I am asking. We need ATI or Nvidia chips on PCI-slotted cards. You notice I did not say ATI or Nvidia cards...although we will take them. There are a ton of manufacturers who put out generic-type cards with the above-mentioned chips on them and they work extremely well to my experience. If you have any of these cards, please consider sending them to us. I will be more than happy to scratch up the money for shipping...we really need these cards. A Linux Guy up in the northwest has set up a shop with several of them available. I have not compared prices with NewEgg or anyone but if you are so inclined, you can look them over here.

You can contact me via email at helios at fixedbylinux dott kommm if you want to contribute to what we do.

I would appreciate it more than you know.

Oh, and for those who need a smile today?

You might wanna look here

All-Righty Then


Anonymous said...

I don't understand: if you are not using these PCs for gameplay, why do you need such good video cards? It's not clear.

Anonymous said...

What to do is pretty simple from a basic cost-benefit analysis.

The benefit of a computer with a good graphics card > the benefit of a computer with a crap graphics cad > no computer at all.

So in sentences: give good graphics cards if you can, but don't give nothing just because you can't find a graphics card for a donated machine.

There are however plenty of graphics cards that fit in a PCI socket.

Charles said...

We do something similar, but our focus is less fortunate families and we don't give the machines away (we also buy Windows licenses). Interestingly the split is actually about 60/40 now. We don't get large quantities of stock Dells, but I feel your frustration, especially on the half-height PCs with no AGP slot. We continue to accept individual donations from the community (which always need a lot of extra care) and we get enough systems with AGP that we can make a difference for low-end gamers (64MB cards, a few 128's).

I'm part of a refurbisher's mailing list. Often some of the other refurbishers are willing to part with quantities of particular hardware. I'll drop you a line later with the mailing list link if you're interested.

Marcy Dinsmore said...

@ first commenter,

I would almost bet you would be one of the one's this author wouldn't want to be bothered with. Maybe I am wrong but I think he made it pretty clear.

Just because they are disadvantaged is no excuse for me or anyone else to consider them as less than equal. I am not going to build them inferior stuff, nor is anyone associated with this program.

Kids are unbelievably cruel creatures. Have you been to a local American Junior high school lately? The caste system is alive and well in the USA. As a retired teacher and a mentor for countless children under the Big Sister Program I can tell you that these kids wear there family's financial status on their sleeves, at least the wealthy ones do. Johnny and Jenny's computer will run the CAD program needed to do their assignments, why can't Billy's?

Oh, it's obvious. He's poor and he cannot afford a computer capable enough of performing the task. What a shame.

It further intensifies the obvious fnancial disadvantage the child's family lives under. I personally applaud this author for his understanding of the social and psychological implications of producing sub-standard hardware.

These kids are not being given computers to game, of course but many applications I recommended for students to use in chemistry and art required some fairly intensive graphic capabilities. To almost give a child what he needs is far more cruel than not giving her anything at all.

Marcy Dinsmore - Phoenix

Anonymous said...

you gotta stick to the point if you start giving out expensive video cards youll have no money of your own. you have to know where to draw the line. alot of the intel stuff is just fine for the older games.

Charles said...

A few thoughts on why a good video card is useful:

* you want to provide a little flash - Compiz for example. A 64MB AGP video card is more than adequate for this task.

* you just want smoother windowing. A better video card usually equals improved windowing performance.

* some educational games use 3D graphics. Kids can do amazing things with programs like Blender. Having a 3D graphics card is really helpful in this respect.

* even modelling scientific data or programs like Celestia can benefit from a 3D graphics card.

Of course a computer without an AGP graphics card is better than no computer at all.

Anonymous said...

@Marcy Dinsmore

Fair enough. The reason was never addressed in the article. I don't know if you give the same reasons as the author would, but they are useful nevertheless.

> I would almost bet you would be one of the one's this author wouldn't want to be bothered with.

Careful. You're becoming like the people who make the same sweeping assumptions you disagree with,

Unknown said...


sadly, the example case you gave would Johnny and Jenny still mock Billy, for the cad program most likely is a windows-only program in todays sad state of the educational system (Not just in the US, but in Europe/Teh Netherlands, where i live, as well).

Not to say that therefor the kids could do w/o graphic cards, since perhaps compiz can not run on the onboard intels as well, and when correctly configured compiz can be really slick and fun, making the exprerience for those kids better and let Billy even mock John en Jenny, since they are put up with that stinkin' Vista on their machines ;)

Keep up the good work Helios, i hope to be able to do what you do someday in my own habitat :)



Unknown said...

@ Charles

"I'll drop you a line later with the mailing list link if you're interested."

I am looking forward to it.


Andrew Magnus - Austin said...

So in sentences: give good graphics cards if you can, but don't give nothing just because you can't find a graphics card for a donated machine.

No, that's not what he said although I could see where someone could think it was implied. I have worked for The HeliOS Project as a volunteer on and off for two years. Ken does his best to keep the low graphics-capable machines in the younger age groups than the kids that are competing for grades in middle and high school. Our frustration has been either in bad video chips which needed replaced via pci or agp bus or kids who needed to run high performance applications that the lower chipsets could not run, especially the Open GL apps.

There are however plenty of graphics cards that fit in a PCI socke

And thus the reason for this blog. Did you have one for the project? I'll pay shipping if you need me to.


whydoubt said...

FWIW, NewEgg has about 67 PCI video cards between $30 and $200. I'm not an expert on the nVidia side, but on the ATI side, this looks like a good deal:

Anonymous said...

Intel integrated graphics are more then capable for any school assignment. Having a computer with a discrete video card says nothing about a person's social or economic station in life.

If you have discrete graphics cards by all means use them in the computers. But don't hold back on a computer because you can't find a discrete video card.

The vast majority of computers bought and owned by rich people have integrated graphics.

vern said...

We are running into a somewhat similar problem looking at using pc's with SIS or intel video chipsets in conjunction with virtual desktop technologies. We are in an educational setting and even disregarding games, these video chipsets are nearly useless. Examples of real-world applications that students have a justified need to use today, that run horribly on such chipsets, include ArcGIS, GoogleEarth, and some of the applications others have already mentioned. We are seeing this problem in an environment where we stream a virtual desktop to the client, using Citrix Provisioning Server, so it is definitely not a limitation of the virtualization technologies or the back-end hardware, but definitely the video chipsets. In our environment all processing is done on a client that is as powerful as a regular workstation, except for the integrated graphics. Anyway, my point is there is a real need for powerful graphics in education and the cheap integrated stuff does not cut it.

FelixTheCat said...

Most current distro releases have default kernels that include buggy Intel drivers. Phoronix states, "With Ubuntu 9.04 using the newer (bugged) Intel code while OpenSolaris is lagging behind with the X/Mesa packages is actually of benefit to Sun, but hopefully by the time the next OpenSolaris release rolls around (and Ubuntu 9.10), all of these Intel issues will be corrected. Some of the performance issues are in fact already corrected in their latest kernel, DDX, and Mesa code."

There are also some how-to articles that include updating to 2.6.30 and newer show significant improvements in the Intel graphics performance.

Believe me, when trying to run Penumbra on one of those Dimensions, the screen refreshed once in about 30-45 seconds! Ugh!! This translates to a HORRIBLE desktop experience, enough to turn kids away from ever trying to use Linux again if they happened to get one of these machines. Even regular desktop actions like scrolling a window (without Compiz) was choppy.

The Dimension we popped open had two expansion card slots, a PCI and either a x1 or x2 PCI-e.

Unknown said...

Intel integrated graphics are more then capable for any school assignment.

No, they are not. Not when a student is instructed to use virtual machines to complete her assignment. NOT when the chip has degraded or been damaged by heat.

I have built close to 1000 computers now, all by hand and all individually tested and I am telling you that the Intel and SiS chipsets can be garbage, depending on the accompanying hardware.

Your attitude could be interpreted to translate into "it's good enough for poor kids".

And where did I say that if we did not deliver a computer if we did not have a bus card? You read way more into it than was there. If all we have are intel chips, then that is what we give them. If the student NEEDS and accelerated video environment, we put them on a waiting list until we can supply it.

Privately I have received emails that are going to provide us with a few cards. I am more than grateful to those who are able to do this.

If you think that some of the stock 828 and 830 chipsets are "good enough", I challenge you to come work with me for a week. It will be an eye opening education I am sure.

Mark Phenning - Ft. Worth TX said...

@ Anonymous

"Intel integrated graphics are more then capable for any school assignment."

Mr. Starks has been hand building computers for kids for about 4 years now. If the man says he needs some mid range cards, I would at least ask you to produce some viable credentials for your arguement otherwise.

The man knows what he is doing. You come close to sabotaging what he does with unsubstantiated statements as above.


sourchier said...

Might be better to drop a better motherboard into the case. (In certin boxes). The cruddy Dell mobos will slow down/crash most GPUs anyway.

Charles said...

There's a Refurbisher's Google Group here:

I'm subscribed to the email list though. I believe you can subscribe by sending a message to:

The volume of messages is pretty low, but good quality. Pretty much everyone seems to be a refurbisher with a fair amount of experience.

Hope this helps in your quest for PCI video cards/chips.

Michael Hall said...

Maybe not the 828 or 830, but I'm pretty sure the 845 and up can run Compiz. I assume that means they can run Google Earth and other non-gaming OpenGL enhanced applications.

Anonymous said...

I'm an artist and game developer and I can tell you for anything other than basic web browsing or word processing the Intel cards are complete and utter garbage. And, no, the rich kids computers do not have them.

Gavin said...

Older integrated graphics chipsets are most definitely *NOT* suitable for the modern standard of desktop usage. The graphics capabilities offered are actually incomplete in their specifications of supported 2D and 3D rendering API's, requiring them to off-load numerous tasks to the CPU. This is incredibly inefficient since software implementations of tasks such as vector manipulation (which is present in 2D graphics as well as 3D graphics despite what the TOYA naysayers will have you believe) on a little endian x86 design are more than one order of magnitude slower than on a hardware implementation on a proper RISC-derived big endian programmable GPU. And of course, when we're talking about programmable GPU's, we mean anything beyond DirectX 7 or OpenGL 1.1; but even this isn't always evident. For instance:

Even though Intel's 865G integrated graphics (Intel Extreme Graphics 2) is spec'd for DX 8 (let's call it 8.0 just to be on the safe side), the graphics engine itself is not capable of vertex shading or pixel shading without help from the CPU. It also does not meet the requirements for TnL in terms of performance. This presents a very large problem for GUI programmers since DirectX and OpenGL specs are supposed to be just that - specifications. If a GPU claims to be capable of pixel shading but isn't, that will adversely affect at least the performance of the GUI if not the functionality. Such as menu icons not showing up at all because the GPU didn't do some pixel shader routines in time so now the order of operations is ruined, etc. Now consider the fact that the i865G integrated graphics is technically superior to half the ones that Ken listed in his blog.


Moving up to the much more recent GMA 950 (Intel 945 series chipsets) you will notice that TnL is still not supported in hardware mode. Two full generations of integrated graphics past the Intel Extreme Graphics 2 and TnL is still not supported. Way to go, Intel! The prize for useless out-of-spec GPU design goes to you! And check out the amazing OpenGL 1.4 hardware support with full ARB_vertex_buffer! Wow! That is some great 2002 technology right there! Too bad that chipset was released in 2005...

Gavin said...

More food for thought:

That's a benchmark list of mobile GPU's, but it also has integrated graphics so it is still very useful information. 204 GPU's are listed on there, in descending order. The GMA 950, the most advanced GPU that Ken listed in his blog, is number 181. Out of 204. Intel's Extreme Graphics 2 is number 195. Out of 204. Take a good long look at that list. Notice how it isn't linear? Number 150 on the list is more than twice as fast as the GMA 950, and number 50 is five times as fast as the GMA 950 in 3DMark 01. I won't even repeat the 3DMark 06 scores - that would just be cruel. And yes, I realize these are technically gaming benchmarks, but if we're talking about Compiz? 3D educational programs? Google Earth?

Or how about websites?

Some months ago, I was working on a older desktop. P4A 2.4, 1 GB DDR RAM, Intel 845 chipset, WinXP - very common OEM business desktop. I went to a certain well-known website that was very Flash-heavy. I noticed it was a bit slow when I tried to navigate the animated menu. A quick check of Task Manager showed the CPU was *PEGGED* at 100% when navigating the menu! Idle? 65-80% CPU usage! IE 6 window minimized? Standard 0-2% CPU usage. This got me to thinking... I had a laptop with very similar specs in terms of graphics (mobile 845G) so I did some experimentation. The result? That same website did the same thing to the P4M 1.7 in my laptop. WinXP, Ubuntu 8.04, Ubuntu 8.10, and Knoppix 5.x (can't remember the specific version) - all the same, always 100% CPU usage on that website. I won't name the specific website here since it is largely unimportant; I obtained all too similar results on other media-intensive websites, from YouTube to, from Flash to Java et al. If you use the internet to obtain information (like, oh, say, kids doing research for a school project?) then you will run into these websites. Period. They have gotten more intense and will only continue to do so. Technology marches onwards, right?

Now take a look at this:

That is a desktop PCIe x16 graphics card, using the Radeon HD 4670 chipset, 256MB of GDDR4. If it were on the mobile GPU list, it would rank at roughly number 27 (slightly above its mobile counterpart). Now check the price. $65, or $50 after the mail-in-rebate. At a price like that, you can't claim it's a "gaming card", yet it can hit number 27 on that list with D3D 10.1 and OpenGL 3.1 capabilities while the "just fine but isn't" GMA 950 can't even do TnL or hit the top 150.

Ken, I'm buying a new PCI vid card from Newegg and having it shipped directly to the Helios Project.

- Gavin

Anonymous said...

This may be obvious and just not clearly stated, but there is PCI and PCI Express (PCIe). PCI video cards are going to be pretty slow, so I hope these computers have a PCIe slot and not just plain PCI.

Andrew Magnus - Austin said...

I have been a volunteer for Ken's organization on and off for two years. Ken doesn't get stuff with pci-e slots. He gets junk that people have had in the back of their closets for 5 years and many of them act as if they are doing him a big favor by giving them to him. Ken is very polite and takes them.

Then deposits them in the closest E-waste container he can find. He rather act as someone's free junk man then make them feel bad.

Dude, all he gets for the most part is borderline junk, and he works miracles with it. Sure it would be nice to get new computers with PCI-e slots...but people don't give him good things, they give him garbage and expect him to make it work.

the amazing thing is that what doesn't hit e-waste he DOES make work and DOES make it work well.

Maybe you have some machines that are new enough to have PCI-e slots to give him. That would be cool.

Or maybe the Junk is good enough for the poor kids as long as your stuff is cool, right?


Victoria Fleeger-Morales - Georgetown said...

@ Andy

Hey Andy, this is Vickie. We worked in Ken's shop in south Austin last year together. I just want to chime in because I usually just lurk. I don't much like registering anywhere to post a comment.

I think we figured it out once. For every 4 crappy computers someone gives Ken, he can build one good one. That means he has to run around and pick up 5 machines just so he can make one.

I don't think people know how much work, gas and frustration helios goes through to do what he does. Most people don't really care. They have what they need and everyone else can get screwed. Most of the people posting here are not like that because many of them know and even help him, but sometimes you get someone who wants to tell a guy who's build almost a thousand computers the difference between pci and pci-e slots.

Thats funny

Vickie Morales - Austin

Unknown said...

Uh Andy, Your email is bouncing so I need to communicate this here, don't take offense.

I don't think the person that posted about the pci-e cards is a regular visitor of the blog of helios. In my opinion that was a tad bit sharp...I didn't see the comment itself, since it had your name on it I let it by without reading it.

Be a bit more gentle with people that might not have been here often. He was just trying to be helpful, and I appreciate your words...

Just soften them up a bit for new visitors...I scare enough away by myself thank you.



Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I caused so much offense with my comment. I am a regular follower of this blog and I have donated on more than one occasion. I suppose maybe I was trying to clarify for myself as well.

I just went and checked and was quite surprised that there is still a wide variety of PCI video cards available. I do wonder what the point is of putting a high end video chipset on a PCI bus as the ones I've tried have been not good performance-wise. And as I understand it, the point of this is to get decent 3d performance.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Dell or other mass producer of computers so severely limits the expandability of their boxes. I was assuming that lack of AGP meant PCI-e instead. However, I remember having looked inside friends' brand name boxes and being horrified at how it was built and lack of any way to modify it.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry I caused so much offense with my comment.

You caused no offense at all my friend...some are over-protective and mis-interpret some statements...many statements are made by people who speak English as a second language. I would advise anyone to read something twice and watch for syntax and rhythm in the sentence...Also, ask yourself if you can speak the posters language as well as he can speak yours...

Many of those who have a native language that's not english are not aware of some subtle nuance and gesture within our language structure...what you interpret as aggressive or negative maybe someone who doesn't realize all the different choices he has to say the same thing:

Your blog sucks.

I think you could improve your blog with pictures.

Don't be so quick and sharp with your responses when you can give someone the benefit of the doubt. You might ask "did you intend for me to think "this" when you posted that comment?

Then you can proceed with fire and hellsfire if you wish. Just don't use it as your opening act.

This concludes blogcomment 101 by professor helios.

Anonymous said...

Then you can proceed with fire and hellsfire if you wish. Just don't use it as your opening act.

Pure class helios, pure class.

Gavin said...

"This may be obvious and just not clearly stated, but there is PCI and PCI Express (PCIe). PCI video cards are going to be pretty slow, so I hope these computers have a PCIe slot and not just plain PCI."

Funny you should mention that, considering there was a time when PCIe was intended to be backwards compatible with PCI.

Years ago, back when PCIe was still in development, it was called 3GIO for 3rd generation I/O. Up until about 18 months before its release, there was a lot of talk about making a universal slot that would be able to detect a legacy PCI card and emulate PCI signals and data. A PCI card could go into a 3GIO slot and operate normally, while a 3GIO card would benefit from the new interface. This was eventually scrapped (rather suddenly) in favor of a brand new slot that was not compatible with any previous slots or cards. Thus 3GIO became PCIe.

Whether or not this was a good idea is debatable. On the one hand, making a single slot for two disparate expansion bus architectures would have been an engineering nightmare, especially since there is not a single version of the PCI spec. On the other hand, adoption of the new technology would have been immensely accelerated had we had a universal slot.

In the end, I think separating them was best. We have a new expansion bus architecture that is actually backwards compatible between versions - unlike PCI and AGP - and is much more scalable with its "link" topology.

And for completeness' sake, we should probably also mention PCI-X. That's a big part of the PCI family, as well; and ironically, it's much more closely related to PCI than PCIe is.

"I just went and checked and was quite surprised that there is still a wide variety of PCI video cards available. I do wonder what the point is of putting a high end video chipset on a PCI bus as the ones I've tried have been not good performance-wise."

That depends greatly on your usage model. As per the intentions of The HeliOS Project, gaming is not part of the intended use of these systems. And without gaming, there is little else that would stress the PCI bus for a PCI vid card. Games require so much bus bandwidth mainly because of textures; mesh data, 2D bitmap frames, and control data for a GUI or the ocassional 3D educational program are not often likely to saturate even half of the total 133 MBps available to the PCI bus. And even when the bus is saturated, the overall performance associated with a dedicated vid card is still at least twice as fast as that which the integrated graphics could ever hope to achieve. Since these systems often lack any expansion slot other than PCI, a dedicated PCI vid card is not only mostly adequate, it is the best that is possible on such hardware. Therefore, Ken is giving his kids the absolute best that he can, which is all anyone can do, and is certainly more than most people do.

That's why he wants PCI vid cards. Not because it's the best technology in existence, but because it's the best technology that he can give.

- Gavin

Eric Jackson said...

Even if you do get ATI / Nvidia PCI cards, they still won't be anything that can run Penumbra. I run Arch Linux on a Pentium 4, 512mb ram, with an AGP Nvidia Geforce 6200LE card and I get

"Your graphics card does not support enough texture units! Please, try updating your graphics card drivers."

when launching Penumbra. I am running 185.18.31 drivers. Even if you do find some PCI cards, and even if they are better than crappy onboard, don't expect them to do much.