Tuesday, 6 May 2008

When PCI is not PCI

This week I bought two new peripherials for my computer: an USB 2.0 controller card and a sound card. Before you ask, yes, neither of those are integrated on the motherboard. Originally it wasn't a desktop machine but a server.

The first problem I encountered was when I tried to insert the A-Link U2P4 USB 2.0 controller in a PCI slot. It just didn't fit. The PCI connector on the controller had different keying from the PCI slot on my motherboard. While I could have made it fit using a hacksaw or something, that didn't sound like a good idea. I didn't understand the situation at all, so I looked up the PCI page from Wikipedia. What I learned was, that there are several versions of the PCI bus. The card I had in my hands was built to use 5 volt signalling and my motherboard used 3.3 volt signalling.

Further looking into different PCI versions revealed that the last version of PCI standard allowing for 5 volt only cards was deprecated already in 2004. It seems, that all new PCI cards should be able to use both 5 and 3.3 volt signalling or even 3.3 volts only.

The second problem was with the sound card, a Terratec Aureon 5.1 PCI (aka. Fun). I was able to plug that one in, but that's just about how far I got. Whenever I tried to turn the computer on, it would turn the power on for a split second and then power off. Just enough to make the fans twitch a bit. I don't really have a way to tell for sure what's the reason, but it seems that the card was short-circuiting some of the power lines, and thus causing the power supply to cut the power.

It may have been, that I just had an faulty card at my hands and if I exchanged it for a new one, it would have worked just fine. Also it may have been that the card is faulty by design and assumes that the signal voltage and +5 volt supplies are at the same voltage, thus shorting the +5V and signal voltage pins. What makes me to even suspect the latter is that I found notions that similar things have happened and that the sound card package showed a picture of a 5 volt only card. If the actual electronics hadn't been revised when the board was changed to universal type (both 5V and 3.3V) that's pretty much what would have happened. I already returned that card to the store for refund, so I don't have real evidence to back up that claim, so as I said, it could have just been one faulty card among a bunch of working cards.


Jason said...

I don't envy this fun from you :)

This is a bit better place about how to recognise 3.3v/5v and 32/64 bit cards slot.

I also had a few cards which was "newer" PCI than the host expected, sometimes signified by the warning "PCI 2.1 only" or "PCI 2.1 (bus mastering)". This SATA card did not work in an Socket A motherboard (which was rather modern otherwise).

pci said...

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