With everyone (including us) doing reviews of commonly known hardware we thought that a temporary change would be welcome. Instead of checking out graphics cards, processors or other peripherals this time we took an interest in what could be described as a device few more advanced users have but could benefit well from. This is how the PC Geiger RD2 Pro came about, small enough to fit in your free 5.25 inch bay yet promising with the features hardcore users would appreciate.
The device is a partnership design by both VICS Technology Inc. and IOSS International Co. Ltd. It is marketed as a hardware PCI bus performance monitoring kit apparently intended in revealing the truth about a few aspects of your system. Our unit arrived in the retail box. The box is surprisingly informative for such a product which isn't made for the masses, but more for those who know somewhat about computers.
The contents of the box includes the following items:
- RD2 PCI card
- RD2 display card
- RD2 front panel
- Display flat cable
- Switch color cable
- RD2 PCI card bracket
- Display unit mounting
- Hexagonal head screw, unit mount screw
- Hexagonal head screwdrivers
For RD2 PRO only
- RD2 USB 1394 I/O card
- USB cable
- USB cable connector holder
- USB cable connector holder key pin
- 1394 cable 6pin <-> 6pin
Quite a long list for a small box. As some of you may of guessed by now the contents of the box forms pieces of the actual device. As a result before we may install the product we first need to assemble it using the individual components. This step isn't too demanding and the manual is helpful in that it has images of how to carry out the assembly. The key here is not to rush it, as once assembled it can be difficult for example to remove the tape protecting the LCD window plastic. Doing things slower should prevent vital steps slipping the mind thus removing the fuss of having to dismantle the unit. We ought to note that the device comes pretty well dressed for its job, a 3mm thick brushed aluminium front panel and fine small hexagonal screws to lock it in place add the touch of elegance. One could argue that this is too overboard but we can say that it rather looks nice if you happen to also own an aluminium case. Not too many people would argue if other manufacturers started upping their appearance and used aluminium more freely in their products. As far as first impressions go you can't help but like the PC Geiger, its looks certainly stand out, we only hope that it's features don't ruin the smile. The manufacturer claims the following:
- Bus clock frequency displayed in x1, x2, x3 and x4 modes
- Bus utilization in percentage
- Bus data amount transferred
- Port 80H, BIOS self-diagnostic information
Upon us finishing dwelling over the assembly hopefully resulting in it all being put together correctly we next need find a spare 5.25 inch bay to insert the Geiger's information and control panel. The other task is to also locate a free PCI slot for the Gieger card. Once installed these two components link in with each other using a gray flat cable. The Geiger features extra features such as 2 USB ports and 1 Firewire port. In order to use these you need to connect the USB header on the PCB (behind the front panel) to a USB header on your motherboard or to an internal USB controller card within your system. The same methodology applies to the Firewire port, without a controller card it will be marked useless. For the purpose of this review we did not connect these ports up, we felt that we should rely on the actual capabilities of the device we're studying. Being a somewhat innovative device the Geiger offers us three more switches located on the front panel (consequently labelled SW1, SW2 and SW3) for which the we may make use of in a way we find most suitable. That's right, all three of these switches can be connected to anything we choose. Both SW1 and SW2 are DIP switches with 2 positions whereas SW3 is a simple push button. There could be essentially a long list of suggestions of how to implement these but that would bore you so we'll name just a few. SW1 or SW2 could be used for Hard drive Master/Slave settings, to clear the CMOS, and for example to turn on fans ON/OFF on a separate PCB that permits manual override control etc. SW3 being a push button could serve the role of a reset button for those cases that don't feature one, as a ON switch for a LCD information panel that automatically turns itself off after 30 seconds or such, or to restart a fan with an auto-off timer etc. One vital piece of information we owe to convey to our readers and which the manufacturer does not address on the box is that this device is intended for 32bit, 33MHz PCI bus systems ONLY. As the installation process draws to an end and we have configured the Geiger as we please comes the time to test it. This is what we plan to do next.
The first thing that happens (providing it has been installed correctly) is that the Gieger will inform us of the various BIOS stages performed upon Bootsrap. As most BIOS's output this information to port 80H we will view data such as 80.xx displayed on the LCD panel where xx stands for the code corresponding to the given operation. Why is this useful? Well lets assume we have just built a new computer or indeed changed the motherboard in an existing one, we turn it on and become of a victim what is the a machine that cannot fully boot. By understanding what these codes mean we can determine at which stage of bootstrap the machine stops. This could be a real time saver as we can locate the troublesome device and remedy the problem much faster than through trial an error. This happens because the PC Geiger operates immediately when power is turned on regardless of whether our system is workable or not. No device drivers are provided or in fact needed for this to work.
The PC Geiger has some other interesting features to add to it's port 80H display ability. The most notable two we think are the PCI bus utilization and transfer modes. Regardless whether your PCI bus runs at the usual default 33MHz or more, it will get saturated with data streams. In some cases this could reach 100% if your system houses many add-on cards, specifically those that yield lots of bus traffic. Due to the constant status being reported back on the buses utilization there is the added benefit of being able to identify which PCI device is the most bandwidth hungry. Should we find that the bandwidth is often heavily consumed we may consider the need to overclock the PCI bus to gain more throughput or simply remove the bandwidth hungry PCI card(s) that is/are causing the lack of performance to other peripherals. The utilization may be displayed in a percentage or in MB/sec.
In addition to the above the LCD panel may also display the PCI bus speed in MHz or indeed the FSB speed. Although the first will always work on all systems the latter won't. This is for a very simple reason, the PC Geiger only supports upto a 1/4 PCI to FSB bus speed divider. In practise this means that if you happen to own a new motherboard with a 1/5 or even 1/6 PCI divider (such as at a FSB of 166MHz or higher) it will not correctly display the FSB speed. In the current form the maximum the PC Geiger can display is a 133MHz FSB providing you're PCI bus speed is at 33MHz. If it is higher then it will still simply display only (PCI bus speed x PCI divider) so if we assume the PCI bus speed is 44MHz it will be (44MHz x 4) thus 176MHz. For users of Pentium 4 or Athlon systems they simply need to remember that their FSB will still be 100 or 133MHz (at least for the time being as we write this article) but instead it utilizes a DDR or quad pumped bus architecture resulting in a 400MHz or 266MHz effective bus speed respectively.
As we have addressed above both the USB and Firewire ports features on the PC Geiger are there but only partially, they both require you to have an internal USB/Firewire port connection to make them be of use. Last but not least we mentioned three switches that can be used for various jobs, two DIP switches and one push button. Although they do not make it any easier lifting our hand or bending our fingers to turn a switch they do take away the problem of having to get up and change a jumper position inside our case each time we for instance wish to clear our CMOS settings. This feature was we think intended for professionals who would make good use of it but as it happens all those who are lazy will benefit too, it's not often you have a cake and get to eat it too.
What we have here in undoubtedly an interesting product. For the recommended retail price of 56USD you get the benefits of a diagnostic and monitoring device in one neat looking aluminium enclosure. What we didn't like about it is definitely the fact that neither the USB or Firewire ports are useful without other internal adapter cards. VICS could argue that these would not be visible in DOS anyway and although that is true there is nothing stopping it being an extra feature that needs Windows or Linux before it enables itself. The only other grudge we hold is about the PCI bus divider. With today's motherboards with integrated clock generators capable of supporting up to a 200MHz FSB and 1/6 divider the Geiger is left behind with a maximum 1/4 divider. So what conclusion does this draw upon us? Basically we are left with the option to not overclock and we will get the correct FSB speed displayed or overclock but have invalid data shown if we happen to use a higher than 1/4 divider. Overall it's a great product, looks goods, works how it should and adds some spark to your case (especially if you already have an aluminium case). For 68USD you could want somewhat more for your money and perhaps VCS will release a new improved version with more bangs for your bucks. As it stands it should be on every advanced users shopping list, why get stressed when that new system won't boot right?
Value for money: 7/10
Build quality: 9/10
Overall Tweak3d.net rating: 80%
Where to buy? This device is available from www.eksitdata.com as they sent us this sample to review. They are located in Sweden but will ship anywhere in the world for only USD 9.50.