Widescreen server

I have access to a Dell PowerEdge T410 at work. This is a great machine, but only comes with video on the motherboard. The Dell manuals etc say that this is a server system and as such shouldn’t require sophisticated video. Well that might be good enough for them, but I’d like something a bit better.

Operating systems

Firstly I run Windows 7 on this machine. Actually it’s a dual-boot with Linux Mint 13, but that’s not important right now; it’s mostly used in Windows mode. So, although the system only ships with Windows Server (2008 I think) or RedHat Enterprise Server, it is entirely possible to put Windows 7 on there.

CUDA

I thought about putting a CUDA-enabled card in, but there is a physical limit to the card you can use. There is only 1 PCIe x16 slot and that is situated right next to the air cooling duct. I measured that I could fit a card in that was about 10 cm long. There don’t seem to be any CUDA-enabled cards that would fit. In addition these high end cards require lots of power and often require a separate power lead directly from the power supply. There doesn’t seem to be an option to provide this much power. Fair enough.

Normal video card

I managed to borrow a non-CUDA card from a friend (actually it’s a CUDA 1.1 card, but I need CUDA 1.3 to get MATLAB to take advantage of that). That worked great once I disabled the on-board video in the BIOS. Be aware that when you disable the video you can’t see what you’re doing! Unfortunately I had to give that card back.

On-board video.

OK, so back to on-board video. This is fine so long as you’re not doing anything fancy. Now, one fancy thing that I needed was to run a widescreen monitor. There is widescreen and widescreen. In my case I wanted 1680 x 1050. The built in video couldn’t supply that. Grrr.

Searching around online I discovered that the video chip on the motherboard is a Matrox G200eW. Some kind soul had worked out that this chip could run more screen resolutions than the operating system would suggest. Another source of information is the SuperMicro site. This suggests a ‘method 2’ that will probably work just fine.

This is how I got his work around implemented on my T410.

Hacking the driver

Firstly I needed a driver. This I downloaded from the Dell website. Installing this driver didn’t give me the screen resolution I needed. The best was 1280 x 1024. The driver also ran as a .exe file, without any clear way to influence the installation process. Well it turns out that this exe file is a self-extracting archive that unpacks into a temporary folder and removes it on termination.

When the driver is installed a second time, it pauses to mention that the driver already present was the same version. At this point switch away and locate the most recent folder in this location.

C:\Users\<your user name>\AppData\Local\Temp

The most recent folder will be the one just created. It has an auto-generated name so we can’t predict what it will be. This is the unpacked contents of the driver archive.

Note, you don’t need to turn on the ‘Show hidden files, folders and drives’ option to access this location. Simply paste it into the location bar at the top of Windows Explorer window.

Copy this folder to a separate location (duplicating it in the Temp folder is OK, but it may be deleted later, so put it somewhere else for posterity). You can exit the driver installation now.

Navigate to the copy of the driver’s folder. In this folder are two files to edit using a text editor. It’s possible you only need to edit one, but I did both so…

S03x64.inf
S08X64.inf

Modify both files in the same manner. In the section entitled

[DriverSettings.G200]

Modify the last line from

00,05,00,04                           ;1280 x 1024

to

00,05,00,04,90,06,1A,04               ;1280 x 1024, 1680x1050

Save these files. The numbers relate to the screen resolutions. They’re pairs of hex digits in little-endian format. To see this consider 90,06 backwards, 06,90, then consider as hex, 0x06 0x90 which is 1680 in decimal. Why do they do it this way? Who knows!

Next run the spsetup.exe installation program in the same folder. This will read the modified inf files and add an additional mode to the display options.

Now we can select the wide screen resolution, although this takes a few more steps.

Navigate to the Screen Resolution Control Panel. This can also be accessed by right-clicking on the desktop.

Control Panel\Appearance and Personalization\Display\Screen Resolution

Click on ‘Advanced settings’ and then click the ‘List all Modes’ button. This brings up a list of all the possible screen resolutions the display adapter can output. For the T410 there are now some 1680 x 1050 options to choose from. Unfortunately the highest colour depth available is 16 million (full colour, rather than the preferred 32 million true colour option). However the screen display isn’t stretched, and for most purposes this number of colours is fine.

Note that I also went back and tried the ‘method 2’ option from the SuperMicro guide. This didn’t improve matters, but may be easier to do. I guess the video chip isn’t capable of handling 32 million colours in 1680 x 1050 pixels.

Outcome

So now I have a PowerEdge T410 running Windows 7 at 1680 x 1050 screen resolution. However, I think I’ll just buy a standard video card and plug it in. This was more an exercise to see what was possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *