Archive for the 'Hard Stuff' Category

New Media PC for the living room

Posted in Hard Stuff on December 28th, 2009

We needed a media PC to drive a 46″ display in our living room. I saw an article in the May 2009 Maximum PC and basically followed their recipe when I built this system in August.

Picture 002

The system has been solid and very quiet. It draws 55-65 watts up and running and the box cost $600 in parts, keyboard and mouse $140, 5.1 amp with speakers $240. About $1,000 when you include cables. This system has been donated to the nonprofit Autistry Studios.

AMD Phenom 9350e Agena 2.0GHz Socket AM2+ 65W Quad-Core Processor Model HD9350ODGHBOX – Retail $99.99
JetWay JNC62K-LF AM2+/AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 8200 Mini ITX AMD Motherboard – Retail $129.99
CORRSAIR XMS2 2GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Desktop Memory Model CM2X2048-6400C5 – Retail $27.99
Western Digital Caviar Black 500 GB Bulk/OEM Hard Drive 3.5 Inch, 32 MB Cache, 7200 RPM SATA II WD5001AALS $67.75
Antec Three Hundred Gaming Case External 3 X 5.25; Internal 6 X 3.5 2*Usb2.0 $59.79
LG Black 8X BD-ROM 16X DVD-ROM 40X CD-ROM SATA Internal Combo LG Blu-ray Reader & 16X LightScribe DVD±R DVD Burner – Retail $124.99
Antec Mult-Station Elite Internal IR receiver w/ VFD and remote – Retail $69.99
Sabrent CRW-UINB 68 in 1 Hi-Speed USB 2.0 Internal Memory Card Reader & Writer (Black) $15.98


Logitech Cordless Desktop MX 5500 Revolution $138.40

5.1 Surround sound system:

Sony BRAVIA DAV-HDX285 5.1-Channel Theater System (Black) $239.65

New PC for my computer lab

Posted in Campfire Stories, Hard Stuff on May 13th, 2009

I needed an extra PC for a video editing class I was going to teach. I wanted it to be beefy enough but not too expensive. I started with a PC Gamer “medium” game system recommendations and tweaked it a bit.

Oh: it had to be quiet!

The New Blue Computer

I ordered everything from Amazon and the prices are what I paid in January 2009. The basic system cost $1,062 and the KVM cost $564.

Antec Nine Hundred Steel ATX Ultimate Gamer PC Case $108.60
CORSAIR 750w TX Series 80 Plus Certified Power Supply $107.64
EVGA 132-CK-NF78-A1 nForce 780i SLI 3xPCI-Express x16 PCI-Express 2.0 Socket 775 A1 Version Motherboard $236.77
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Quad-Core Processor, 2.40 GHz, 8M L2 Cache, LGA 775 $189.99
Corsair XMS2 4 GB (2 X 2 GB) PC2-6400 800 MHz 240-PIN DDR2 Dual-Channel Memory Kit – TWIN2X4096-6400C5 $54.99
Zalman CNPS9700LED Ultra Quiet Cpu Cooler $59.99
EVGA 512-P3-N879-AR GeForce 9800 GTX + 512 MB DDR3 PCI-Express 2.0 Graphics Card $187.10
Western Digital Caviar Blue 500 GB Bulk/OEM Hard Drive 3.5 Inch, 16 MB Cache, 7200 RPM SATA II WD5000AAKS $59.99
HP 22X DVDRW LS IDE Retail Black $37.66
Sabrent CRW-UINB 68 in 1 Hi-Speed USB 2.0 Internal Memory Card Reader & Writer (Black) $19.32

The Keyboard, Video, and Mouse:

Ergotron LX Desk Mount Arm – mounting kit ( 45-179-195 ) $114.99
Samsung SyncMaster 2493HM 24″ LCD Monitor $378.99
Logitech 967688-0403 MX3200 Cordless Desktop Laser (Black) $70.98


I’ve been really happy with this system. Quiet, stable, fast, and I love the case!

The Dead PC

Posted in Campfire Stories, Hard Stuff on April 30th, 2006

One of our PCs died last week. What a chore. The machine was about three years old and there were no warning signs. The machine is at a desk in the bedroom and while I was watching TV one evening I heard it stop. I tried restarting; it whirred for a bit and then shut down. Uh-oh. Pulling the machine out I’m thinking “oh, it’s just a power supply.”

It’s never the power supply 

I have a bunch of really nice power supplies in their boxes from all the previous occasions I thought it was the power supply. My experience in over 20 years of “modern” PC ownership: it’s never the power supply. Not to say power supply failures don’t happen, it’s just that they don’t happen to me (yet). My experience has been: if the machine dies, it’s dead. There’s no fixing it. Pull the hard drives out and move on.

Ok, I heard a bunch of people say to themselves “wait, you could troubleshoot it and have it working in a few weeks after a few dozen trips to Fry’s and Radio Shack for some simple parts. An oscilloscope would show you …” Right. Look, $699 buys a lot of machine these days. $699 is much cheaper than several weeks of my “spare” time lost to chasing a problem (that the CPU really did fry because the heat sink was too full of dust).

What really fails? 

For me the devil has been miscellaneous “motherboard/CPU issues” (three times, counting this failure), and disk failure (once). I typically have 4-5 machines in use in the house at any one time. Over 20 years x 4.5 machines = 90 machine-years of PC use so with only four failures I think I’ve had very few problems. The one disk issue gave me lots of warning: it was an NT 4.0 system and the system log started showing disk errors. I was able to get everything off onto a new drive so I’ve never lost data (so far). I still have emails stored from 1990 (I’m not sure that’s a good thing).

What works?

Running machines all the time 24×7 is definitely better than turning them on and off once a day. I have a domain controller that is a Pentium Celeron 300 MHz built ten years ago. It’s had three drive upgrades but still runs fine.

Distribute critical data. I almost never make backups. There. I said it. Yeah yeah yeah, I know you’re supposed to make backups. EVERYONE knows you’re supposed to make backups.

At least I’m honest enough to admit I generally do not make backups. Anyone else who says they are continuously backed up is simply a liar.

Who has time to row fifty (or one hundred) CDs through the CD burner? It’s not that I have not tried. I backed up a 20-meg hard drive onto 3.5″ floppies once (remember 3.5 floppies?). I bought a tape drive once. Two hundred fifty whole Megabytes a tape. Modern hard drive capacity growth devours any backup strategy I can think of. Modern hard drives are also your fastest cheapest back up medium (see Raid 1 below).

Source Code Control: I use Source Safe for a lot of my data backup. I copy stuff to my laptop. I copy stuff to my work computer.

Raid 1 your disks: I buy SATA Raid 1 on all my new desktops. An extra $80 for a 200 Gig backup drive? That’s a no-brainer. Why bother with Raid 1 if I seemingly do not believe in backups? While I have never lost any critical data I DO mind how long it takes to rebuild a machine and get all my critical applications and tools re-installed.

Vacuum once in awhile: I now buy those cool cases with windows in the side and lights inside so it’s visually really offensive when it’s all full of dust inside.