PCs I Have Known
I have assembled several PCs for myself over the years. You can get a sense for how things have evolved by looking at the components, capabilities, and prices of each one.
I've included some simple memory throughput benchmarks from "memtest", and some simple disk speed benchmarks from "hdparm -t" under Linux. These aren't meant to provide hard numbers for expected performance, but rather to give you a sense for how performance has evolved over the years.
Power consumption was measured with a "Watts Up?" electricity meter. The "idle" load is sitting in Windows doing nothing, the "active peak" load is the peak observed as Windows is coming up. For reference, my CRT monitors both draw slightly under 100W, and my Dell 20" LCD draws 43W.
Generally speaking, the memory and hard drive capacity of machine N is greater than that of all the earlier machines put together.
My tale of woe regarding a VIA-based motherboard and 1394 cards can be found below.
PC #1: June 1995
Later on I added a second hard drive (2GB SCSI Quantum Grand Prix XP32150) for $795, a //FAST AV Master video capture board for $1000, a Yamaha CDR-102 CD recorder for $1242, a 3Com Fast EtherLink XL 10/100 card for $169, and replaced the lousy NEC CD-ROM drive with a Plextor 8plex for $430. I also upgraded the CPU from 90MHz to 133MHz for $379. That's another $4015, for a total of $9842 on one lousy PC.
Was it worth it? Perhaps. It ran the games of the day (e.g. Doom) rather well, and worked great with Slackware Linux distributions that you downloaded onto floppies.
What says the most about this PC is that it became my home web server, and was running 24x7 from late in the year 2000 until I finally replaced it in April 2003. The Seagate Barracuda eventually died and was replaced with a 4GB SCSI Quantum Atlas II XP34550W, and the AV Master and AWE32 cards were moved into the second PC, but other than that it still ran with original parts. The keyboard, mouse, and speakers were still in use 10 years later on various machines.
(The PC was finally discarded in July 2006.)
Decent stats for a machine of the day. Interesting that the tiny CPU cache is only marginally faster than memory in this test.
PC #2: June 1997
I also bought a Belkin OmniView KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) 4-way switch so I could use the same keyboard, mouse, and monitor with the two machines ($249). Adding the second machine meant I now needed an Ethernet hub, so I bought an HP 8-port 10base-T hub for $144. I added a second hard drive, a 4.55GB SCSI Seagate Cheetah ST34501W, for $780. Somewhere in here, due to the variety of devices I had (external tape drive, internal non-wide CD-ROM drive, internal wide hard drive, CD recorders, etc) I swapped the Adaptec SCSI card out and replaced it with a Diamond Fireport 40 Dual for $190. That's another $1363. I also upgraded the memory to 64MB, but I don't have the price recorded.
The //FAST AV/Master card and the SB AWE32 moved into this machine, and remain there to this day. This machine is currently idle for the most part.
Note how the price of RAM crashed. 32MB went from nearly $1000 down to barely over $100. Everything went down except the CPU, but declining by nearly 10x is phenomenal. The above excludes stuff I already had, such as the monitor, keyboard, and speakers, which cuts the cost by a fair amount.
(I still have this one, for testing with old hardware.)
No real improvement in the memory access speed going from FPM to EDO, but the cache shows tremendous improvement. The disk performance is also picking up rapidly.
PC #3: July 1999
The monitor I bought with the new system hooked into the KVM switch, and the old Nokia monitor was set aside. The new monitor was larger, and was in use until it failed five years later. About this time I bought an HP 2000CN printer (with Ethernet network adapter) for $915, and upgraded the Ethernet hub to a Netgear FS308 10/100 autosensing switch for $340. The video card was replaced with an Elsa Gladiac 2gts (Nvidia GeForce2) 32MB AGP card for $300 toward the end of 2000. I replaced the Belkin KVM switch with a LinkSys Proconnect 4-port PS/2 for $160, because the video quality was much better. In 2002 I added a $50 Western Digital 1394 adapter.
Prices on things hadn't really changed much, but speed and capacity is improving.
I eventually added another 256MB of memory ($204 for another 128MB, then an earlier one went bad, so I spent $225 for the next one, and $40 for the last one in July 2001 -- RAM prices fluctuated quite a bit over that period). In September 2000 I tried replacing the motherboard with an Abit KT-7 and the CPU with an AMD 900MHz Athlon Thunderbird, but that experiment ended in failure when games would lock up after about 10 minutes.
After I bought machine #4, this machine was combined with the Nokia monitor, the Logitech 3-button mouse, and a new keyboard to form an entirely separate machine for my girlfriend to use. It was used for another 3.5" years in this configuration, with the addition of a Sony CRX320A CD recorder in late 2004 ($90). The machine was finally discarded in July 2006; I moved the SCSI card to PC #5.
The throughput from main memory doubled, and the stats on cache transfers are improving steadily. Bulk reads from the hard drive are now twice as fast, on a disk that is larger, quieter, and runs cooler than its predecessors. Curiously, this machine has the lowest power consumption of any PC I've built.
PC #4: January 2002
This is a significant departure from previous PCs, as it contains nothing from Intel and there are no SCSI devices. I'm also using the "sound card" and Ethernet NIC built into the motherboard, and I've switched to a new mouse for the first time in nearly seven years. As with the previous machines, this hooks into the KVM switch.
The 1394 (Firewire) adapter never worked right. See below.
Getting this thing to work was a nightmare. The first time I put it together - with a different motherboard - it flat out didn't work. Didn't make a sound. I replaced the motherboard with the Soyo Dragon+, and got beeps that told me my RAM was bad. I bought more RAM, which also turned out to be bad, but it worked well enough to get a memory tester running and to tell me that I wasn't going insane. At one point I had in my possession two motherboards, two CPUs, two power supplies, and four pieces of RAM. Two pieces of RAM were in various states of "bad", and the first motherboard provided no diagnostics when it didn't like the RAM (it might even have fried the first piece of RAM). This took *hours* to sort out.
After things were more or less coming together, the SB Audigy Gamer I installed started causing the same sorts of problems I'd experienced on the failed attempt to upgrade machine #3 with the Abit KT-7 (lockups about ten minutes into playing a game), so I stuck with the built-in audio, which usually works well. Of course, since Creative likes to install control panels and other garbage that cannot be un-installed, I got to re-install Windows. Lesson learned: use Norton Ghost to back up the system before adding anything from Creative Labs.
After about six months, the IBM 60GXP drives started acting up. One appears to be leaking oil, though IBM says there's no oil in the drive. (Which makes sense, but where the hell did the oil come from, and why was it smeared along the seams of the drive? Someone suggested that the rubber seals broke down, the loss of which sped the drive failure.) I replaced the drives with Western Digital WD600A 60GB 7200RPM drives. [Followup: about a year and a half later I tried to use the drives for scratch space. The one that seemed to be leaking was dead. I discarded them both.]
(Replaced by PC #7 in January 2004.)
The memory and disk throughput has improved dramatically. In some part the RAM figures are due to switching from Intel to AMD. The figures for the ATA-100 hard drive suggest that, for a simple desktop PC with one or two hard drives, SCSI is no longer necessary for solid performance. The power consumption is frightening, but I wonder how much of that is the video card.
PC #5 (QA box): January 2003
After the nightmarish experience with VIA chipsets, I'm back to Intel (even going so far as to buy an Intel motherboard). This machine was built as a QA box, able to run Win98, Win2K, and WinXP. With Red Hat 8.0, it's a quadruple-boot system. It's intended to be stable rather than speedy, so the emphasis was on reliable and inexpensive components.
The 80GB hard drive was originally bought for some TiVo hacking. I wanted to use it as Ghost image storage, writing to it through Firewire, but that fell apart when machine #4 choked. It was certainly large enough to hold the various OSs, so I stuffed it into this machine.
Besides 1394, it also does USB2.0. Unlike the previous motherboard, the USB connector on the front of the case actually works with it.
Linux seems to work, though the I845G video stuff was giving me trouble until I found a BIOS setting that increased the amount of memory dedicated to video from 1MB to 8MB. I couldn't figure out why Windows worked fine, but Linux was limited to 640x480x16 (and flaking out in a big way). Windows worked fine, though I do recall some minor flakiness -- some pixels getting stomped in the general vicinity of the mouse -- that I haven't seen since I upped the memory reservation.
The memory I initially bought for it ("Major Brand" SDRAM) came up as 128MB. The DIMM was only populated on one side, which made me suspect that I'd been sold the wrong thing. However, when I swapped RAM between this machine and #4, they both saw 256MB. Looks like this motherboard has a slight incompatibility with the RAM.
(I still use this one, often for hosting "guest" hard drives from projects.)
RAM speeds are up again, owing in part to the 400MHz FSB (which makes the 266MHz DDR SDRAM the bottleneck).
PC #6 (web/mail/NFS/Samba server): April 2003
This was purchased as a web server replacement for PC #1. The power supply fan started acting up, and it was time to get a machine with a decent amount of storage space and enough CPU and memory to let me run a modern web browser.
I wanted one of the "mini-itx" boxes because they're small, generally quiet, fairly inexpensive, and don't use much power. So far the Iwill XP4 has lived up to all of my expectations. The case is even a "tool-free" design, with thumb screws for the case.
The box fits a CD-ROM drive, a hard drive, and a PCI card, and that's about it. The Intel 845GV chipset isn't much compared to modern graphics cards, but for a dedicated web server it's more than enough (1280x1024x24 works fine).
The only weirdness was the front headphone jack, which has left/right channels reversed. The rear headphone jack is fine. Looks like pulling the wires out of a block and reversing them would fix the problem, but so far I haven't been motivated to do so.
I decided to swap the Plextor drive with the Asus drive in PC #5. Since this is a dedicated web/NFS/Samba server it doesn't really need a CD recorder. If I decide to make it an MP3 server, the Asus drive is more than capable of ripping audio tracks.
(Replaced by machine #9 in September 2005.)
The memory numbers are from memtest x86+ v1.60, booted from a CD-ROM drive because the system has no floppy drive.
In July 2005 I upgraded the drive to a 160GB Maxtor. When I first set up the system I partitioned the drive badly, and we started running out of space because I'm also using the box as networked MP3 storage. I also took the opportunity to switch from RedHat 9 to Fedora Core 4. It was easier and safer to install on a new drive and copy the data over than try to upgrade it in place. The newer drive gets 50MB/sec on throughput, with 515MB/sec from cache. The latter number suggests that the OS upgrade may have enabled a better DMA mode.
PC #7: January 2004
My main development PC (#4, built January 2002) was getting a little erratic. It usually wouldn't boot up right on the first try in the morning, and I'd seen some flaky behavior. I never did get 1394 to work with it. So, I finally decided to upgrade the motherboard and CPU. After my VIA nightmare I went back to Intel.
The change from the old motherboard and CPU to the new required a reinstall of Win98 and Win2K, so I'm looking at this as a new machine rather than an upgrade to the old. Besides, the only bits that aren't new are the hard drives and video card.
All the benchmarks show that it's a faster box, but so far I haven't really seen an obvious speed improvement in my daily life. Going from a 266MHz Pentium II to a 500MHz Pentium III was quite dramatic, but in this case it doesn't seem that two years has changed much. I suspect that upgrading the video card would boost things nicely, but I decided not to do that right off, since the GeForce3 is still doing okay.
(Replaced by PC #10 in December 2006.)
Impressive memory performance. It might be faster if I used a pair of DIMMs instead of just one -- that would activate the "dual channel" stuff -- but I don't think memory access is a bottleneck for me, so there's no point in upgrading at this time. (This tested at 21024MB/sec for both L1 and L2 cache, with 1587MB/sec for memory, with memtest x86 v2.8. The newer numbers above are from memtest x86+ v1.60.)
In June 2004 my Sony GDM-F400 19" monitor, which had been flickering occasionally, flickered one last time. I replaced it with a Dell 2001-FP 20" LCD monitor. Great monitor for work, and pretty good for gaming. I've noticed one stuck pixel after 9 months, but I only really see that when I'm booting the machine (it glows a faint blue when the screen is black; at 1600x1200 native resolution it's hard to spot).
In July 2004 I switched to an ATI Radeon X800 Pro video card (AGP, 256MB) for $433. Very nice. The lack of drivers for Win98 is annoying, but with "DOSBox" for old games I rarely have a need to boot Win98 anymore. Besides, anything that old will work fine at the generic 640x480x8bpp.
In July 2005 one of the WD600A hard drives crashed. One day it was fine, the next it was very flaky, the next it was dead. I managed to get most of the data off, but it was my boot drive so I needed a replacement. The motherboard accepts Serial ATA, so I bought a Seagate ST3300831AS (300GB, 7200rpm, 8MB cache). The hdparm tests don't work with SATA, because they can't reset the cache, but the throughput appears to be in the neighborhood of 55MB/sec. Since I lost the boot drive, I upgraded the OS from Win2K to WinXP as part of my reconstruction (and also switched from Linux RH9 to FC4). Addendum: a month later, the other drive (same model, bought at the same time) started to go; fortunately I had already copied everything off.
In December 2005, after sitting through one too many game demos that stuttered badly, I upgraded the RAM from 512MB to 2GB for about $200. The benchmarks from MemTest showed 1583MB/sec before the test with 3-3-3-8 timings. I removed the 512MB DIMM and added one 1GB DIMM and it tested at 1561MB/sec, same timings. Adding the second DIMM enabled dual-channel mode, and the benchmark reported 2441MB/sec. Switching the timings shown on the newegg site (2-3-3-6) increased that to 2492MB/sec. At one point I mistakenly entered 2-3-2-5 timings which seemed to be stable at 2602MB/sec, but I don't like overclocking my hardware (I'm fond of stability). The bottom line is that the benchmark showed significant improvement for switching to a dual-channel configuration, and fiddling with DRAM timings in the BIOS didn't boost things much.
In Feb 2006 I added a Plextor PX-740A DVD recorder.
PC #8: June 2005
My wife had been using machine #3 (500MHz Pentium-III) for a few years, and had managed to fill the 18GB hard drive with digital photos and Photoshop projects. I decided to construct a new machine as a surprise. The only thing I kept from the original was the Sony CRX320A CD recorder, which was less than a year old.
I had some trouble with the Intel-provided heat sink. Getting the pegs to fully compress doesn't seem possible with the Asus motherboard. I don't know if the motherboard is too thick or what, but I have to say the LGA775 heat sink attachment system doesn't impress me much. I used a *lot* of force, and it appears to be resting snugly, but it worries me a little.
Update: after the Jul 4 2008 meltdown of machine #10, I realized that the hard drive in this system had been active for about 3 years, and decided to replace it before it failed. The system now has a 500GB Seagate ST3500320AS. After the replacement I noticed some strange behavior: when told to go into "suspend" mode, it would often reboot. A few weeks later it failed to boot into Windows, though it would boot into "safe mode". I tracked this down to a faulty power supply, and replaced the Thermaltake with a 450W Corsair CMPSU-450VX. The CPU temperature also seemed a little high, so I replaced the dodgy stock heat sink with one of the fancy ones I purchased when trying to get machine #10 to work.
(This machine is still in use.)
I updated to memtest86+ v1.60, because the old version wouldn't run at all on the new system. The L1/L2 cache numbers haven't changed any, but the memory throughput is a lot better than the 3GHz P4. Not sure what's because of the DDR2 or because of the dual-channel memory config. I bought DDR2-800 (PC-6400), but when booting the system BIOS shows "PC2-5300", and memtest says "333MHz (DDR666). The FSB is set to 200MHz/800MHz.
The power consumption indicates close to a 100W difference between peak and idle. I've noticed that WinXP and Linux run a lot cooler when idling than Win2K and Win98.
PC #9 (web/mail/NFS/Samba server): September 2005
As seems to be typical with computers that are always on, the power supply fan on machine #6 started to fail after a few years. I first noticed this because the amount of noise coming out of the box increased substantially. The CPU fan was noisily working harder to try to take up the slack.
My original plan was to re-use all the components from machine #6, but the CPU (Willamette 1.7GHz Pentium-4) didn't work in the MSI box. Rather than hunt around for a box that did work, I decided to upgrade the CPU instead. I figured my odds of finding a machine that supported the older chip were low, and got worse if I wanted gigabit Ethernet. I regularly use this machine for browsing the Internet and compiling bits of software I'm working on, so upgrading the CPU and memory wasn't a tough call.
The box fits a CD-ROM drive, a hard drive, and has a riser with slots for two PCI cards. The Intel graphics work better under Linux than the previous box, especially when moving windows around with "show contents while moving windows" enabled. Whether that's because of upgraded technology or 16MB vs. 8MB isn't clear to me.
I liked the Iwill XP-4 much better than this MSI box. The MSI case has some advantages, e.g. it's made out of heavy steel, has lots of fans, and supports two PCI cards instead of one. However, it's difficult to install drives if both devices are IDE due to the cabling and the way the drive bays are laid out. It's a little easier with a SATA hard drive.
(This machine was replaced by #11 in July 2007 when the hard drive fried.)
The UPS adds about 15W. This is still drawing a lot more power than the Iwill box, which is too bad, both from a heat perspective during summer and an electric-bill perspective all year 'round.
The L1/L2 cache numbers aren't as good as my older 3GHz P4 (#7), but the memory numbers are better.
I did an FTP transfer from another machine to test the gigabit Ethernet. Sending data to this machine went from 10655KB/sec to 48680KB/sec. The upper limit was about half of what I was hoping to get, but after a moment I realized that I was being limited by the maximum write speed of the hard drive.
PC #10: December 2006
My development-slash-gaming machine, PC #7, wasn't handling some of the newer games well. My plan was to upgrade the motherboard and CPU. I ended up boosting the RAM and video card as well, the former for performance reasons and the latter because there was no AGP slot in the new motherboard. The case upgrade was mostly to get the top-mounted case fan for better heat dissipation.
I haven't spent that much money on a CPU, ever, though the 266MHz Pentium-II was up there. However, I haven't seen such a dramatic improvement in a while. The change to games running in "DOS Box", which are essentially unaffected by the video card upgrade, was astounding.
The system came together fairly easily, though there was a mandatory BIOS upgrade for CPU compatibility. I tried to move the hard drive directly from one machine to another, but both WinXP and FC4 Linux gagged almost immediately. (The trick for WinXP is to boot the install CD, say "install", point it at your existing installation, and then say "repair". It takes about as long as a regular install, but it doesn't wipe out your installed apps.)
Even with all of the fans (4 in the case, big fat one on the CPU, big one on the video card) the machine is very quiet.
Update: about 5 weeks after I first put it together, it started having trouble powering on. The computer would power on, and I could hear the hard drive spin up and see the DVD drives do their self-tests, but after a couple of seconds it would freeze up. It didn't beep at me; my only hint was that I could hear a fan spin up. If I hit "reset" a few times it would eventually work. After trying a few simple things (removing the video card and other peripherals) to no effect, I started to focus in on the CPU heat sink + fan.
A motherboard temperature test showed that the CPU was reaching 70C while idling and 90C while gaming. It looks like the maximum safe temperature for the CPU is around 65-70C, so I was waaay over. I figured that the heat sink wasn't set properly, and as a result it was heating up too much on startup and shutting down immediately. After heating up a little the thermal pad melted a bit and became more conductive, and the computer would start. I replaced the heat sink, using some thermal grease, and the situation improved to 57C/80C. It would occasionally fail to start though.
I bought a Zalman CNPS7700-Cu heat sink (big lump of copper) and Arctic Silver 5 grease, and tried again. No problems starting up, but after an extended Battlefield 2142 session I noticed that the CPU was still hitting 80C. I also noticed that the air coming out the case felt like a hair dryer. I ran some tests, and found that the CPU temperature under load dropped by 10C with the side panel of the case removed. (It's 50C idle / 65C gaming with the case open and all fans at maximum.) This strongly suggested that my Lian Li case -- with four 80mm fans, including one on top -- was not up to the challenge of a "Kentsfield" QX6700.
So I needed a new case. I could just leave the side panel off, but that's bad for dust and noise, and it's sub-optimal for cooling because you don't get directed airflow across the components. I ended up with an Antec Nine Hundred, which has three 120mm fans and one 200mm fan on top. This improved things significantly. I can achieve the 50C/65C temperatures with the fans at a reasonable noise level.
However, I didn't stop there. The 7700 wasn't warm to the touch when the system was running, suggesting that most of the surface area of the fins wasn't doing much. I was concerned that having barely-adequate cooling during winter with one CPU under load would give me problems in summer with games that used two or more cores. After reading about heat pipes I decided to get yet another heat sink, this time the Zalman CPNS9700 LED. This gave me the same 50C/65C results, but with the fans lower. I also noticed that the four CPU cores were at significantly different temperatures. With the 7700 I got results like 66/65/63/60, with the 9700 I get 67/61/54/51. This suggests that the new heat sink is doing a better job of pulling heat away.
Normally the 9700 is supposed to be pointed so that it blows air out the back of the case. I rotated it so it blows air out the top of the case, where the 200mm fan is. Seems to work pretty well.
Update: July 4 2008, a day that will live in infamy. Total failure of the hard drive in the span of a couple of hours. The contents of the drive were not recoverable, not even by drivesavers.com; they reported that the head assembly worked its way loose and physically damaged the platters as it flailed around. I replaced it with a 500GB Seagate ST3500320AS, and managed to restore a fair bit of stuff from backups.
It's quite the power-hog, even when idle. The "max" value was the highest I saw playing Battlefield 2142 in single-player with three copies of "DOS Box" running M.A.X. in the background (the task manager shows each DOS Box maxes out one CPU, though it may not be exercising all parts of the core). It ran about 287W with just BF2142. The 750W power supply was probably overkill, but I don't think I'd go sub-600.
Memtest 86+ v1.65 couldn't find the L2 cache. v1.70 found it, but only 4MB.
Update: in September 2007 it started acting up again, refusing to boot. This one turned out to be a failing piece of RAM. As part of figuring out what was wrong I ended up swapping out the CPU, replacing it with an E6850 (Core 2 Duo 3.0GHz, 1333MHz FSB, 4MB cache). Using the same case and CPU cooler, I have yet to see it go north of 32 degrees C. (Actually, it usually sits around 16, which is below ambient, so I strongly suspect the thermometer is off. The box certainly *feels* cooler though.) Memory figures were slightly better (49200/20987/3449), and the chip is clocked faster, but only has two cores instead of four. Since I wasn't really using more than two, and the extreme power consumption was causing issues, I left the new CPU in place.
Updated power figures: 159W idle (WinXP), 191W peak while booting, 238W peak in BF2142.
At some point I added a Creative X-Fi XtremeGamer PCI sound card and an LG GGW-H20L Blu-Ray reader/writer ($240).
PC #11: July 2007
I was never thrilled with the layout of the MSI Hetis case (PC #9). It turns out the generally poor ventilation and confined space for hard drive and CD-ROM drive were too much for my poor little Seagate. On July 4th it started throwing block errors. I shifted it to a different PC (the #5 "QA box", which has proven to be incredibly useful as a temporary home for things), and managed to rsync the entire drive over to my Infrant ReadyNAS NV. This took a little effort, as the Red Hat Linux boot process freaks out if you have multiple drives with the same drive labels, but fortunately rsync comes loaded on the rescue CD.
I got the data onto a new drive, with a new version of Linux (Ubuntu Fiesty this time), and made some modifications to the case: removed the CD-ROM drive, and installed a small fan to blow air directly across the drive. The drive still felt too warm to me, so I decided to scrap the case and start again. I figured I'd move up a size from mini-ITX and try micro-ATX. The cases are larger, but people expect to put serious LAN-gaming hardware in these things, so the ventilation tends to be much better, and most of them take standard ATX power supplies (which is what usually fails first on a machine that's powered up 24/7).
My first thought was to keep as many old parts as possible. It turns out that, if you want to run a Prescott Pentium, you can get some pretty cheap motherboards. Unfortunately they all seemed to be based around VIA chipsets, and as I learned with machine #4, life is too short to use VIA. So I started looking at newer stuff. Because heat is the enemy, and keeping overall power consumption low is important, and CPU performance just doesn't matter a whole lot for a home web/mail server, I went with a Celeron D.
The case is pretty interesting. It came with a big handle that I decided to remove so I could stack other stuff on top. It's the first case I've owned where the motherboard is horizontal. Not sure how I feel about that dust-wise, but I guess that's what compressed air is for. At any rate, it has plenty of room and good ventilation.
The motherboard is a little newer than my Ubuntu installation likes, though it managed to handle it. I had to stick with the generic VESA drivers, which are fast enough for a web browser / server machine. I noticed that the machine would freeze up for half a second or so every few seconds, noticeable mostly when moving the mouse around, but disabling and re-enabling the network after boot seems to clear that up. Probably needs a newer network driver for the onboard LAN. (Update: the 7.10 Ubuntu release fixed that.)
This is the first time I've used a modular power supply. I really like them.
The power consumption is usually in the 93-100W range. I can get it higher than that by moving quickly between virtual screens, suggesting that the onboard GPU is drawing significant power. I was hoping the idle figure would be lower, but with modern motherboards that may not be realistic.
On-chip memory performance is not very impressive. The RAM access is dual-channel, but limited by the Celeron's 533MHz FSB.
Update: in August 2010, as part of my "replace every three years" policy, I replaced the hard drive with a 500GB Seagate ST3500418AS.
PC #12: August 2010
I initially bought an Asus ROG Matrix Radeon HD 5870 2GB video card. The first card I got was borderline DOA -- loud clacking from the fan, and the built-in thermometer showed it overheating while I was sitting on the PC BIOS screen during initial set up. It started to "go funny", so I pulled it and bought the 5770 from a local store. Unfortunately the NewEgg policy on the card was "return for replacement only", so I RMAed it and waited. A week later I got the new one and installed that, and within a few days it started flaking out as well. That one went back, and the replacement is going to sit on a shelf.
While swapping the cards back and forth I noticed that the display of text in Windows 7 wasn't quite as sharp on the 5870. I think it's because I use a VGA KVM switch, and the DVI-A output from the fancier card just isn't as crisp. It's noticeable enough that I would not want to install the 5870 without upgrading the KVM first. The 5770 is also smaller, quieter, and generates less heat; too bad it's got half the performance.
I tried to move the Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer from PC #10, which this system is replacing, but had some weird "can't boot to the BIOS" sorts of issues after installing it. No matter, the onboard sound seems pretty good in this.
This is my first system running Windows 7. So far so good. I'm liking the built-in backup solution.
...except maybe for installing Office 2007, which blue-screened partway through, leaving a ton of junk behind that the uninstaller couldn't cope with. I had to use a bit of freeware called RipOutOffice2007 to get most of the files uninstalled, and then hand-edit a bunch of registry entries before I could try again. The second attempt, started immediately after rebooting with everything I could find (e.g. Steam and the ATI Catalyst UI) shut down, was successful. The cause of my difficulty turned out to be a single weak bit in the DRAM -- I had to leave memtest running overnight to find it.
Update: at some point I changed the video card to a GeForce GTX 560. I also upgraded the monitor to a Dell U2412M, which I absolutely love. The old Dell 2005 is now used as a secondary monitor.
The Great 1394 Nightmare of 2002
The fourth machine has had its share of difficulties. Besides its troubled birth, the Great Firewire Debacle is an unpleasant reminder of just how annoying computers can be to upgrade.
I had a spare 80GB Maxtor hard drive left over from some TiVo experiments, so I figured I'd stuff it into a 1394 enclosure and use it to hold drive image backups (courtesy Symantec Ghost 2002). I also wanted to be able to put some large TiVo video streams on there.
Everything seemed to be okay, at first. But when I tried to read a lot of data, or write relatively little, the system would either lock up or reboot. Sometimes it fails instantly, sometimes it takes 10 or 15 seconds. I tried putting the HP DVD100i into a 1394 enclosure, and it worked great for playing DVD movies, but the device went out to lunch about halfway through recording a CD. The system was fine, but I had to reset the drive.
My conclusion is that my Soyo SY-K7V Dragon+ motherboard is not compatible with 1394. It may be that I have a marginal or defective motherboard, perhaps also explaining why the Creative Audigy Gamer board also had problems.
Did I leap abruptly to this conclusion? Well, I tried the following in various combinations:
I have the latest BIOS for the motherboard, the latest VIA 4-in-1 drivers for Windows, and everything Windows Update has to offer. memtest v2.8, which is pretty thorough, found no problems with RAM.
The Maxtor drive in ADS case works just fine with the second Western Digital 1394 card installed in machine #3 (the Pentium-III box). After putting machine #5 together with the Maxtor drive as the primary disk, I put one of the IBM GXP-60 drives in the ADS case, moved the card from #4 to #5, and discovered that 1394 in #5 works just fine (and with WinXP SP1 as well). I did extensive testing copying files to and from the drive. I do not believe there is a problem with the drive, drive kit, or cable, and I see no reason to believe there is a compatibility between the Orange Micro 1394 card and the ADS drive kit.
Windows did not recover when the drive was unplugged. I do not believe this is an IRQ or resource issue, since I have tried multiple combinations of allocations.
The symptoms exhibited by this motherboard when combined with a Creative SB Audigy Gamer match closely those exhibited by an Abit KT-7 motherboard combined with a Creative SB AWE32 board. The Abit KT-7 is based on the VIA KT-133A chipset. My opinion of VIA chipsets is falling rapidly. It is unlikely I will buy another VIA-based system, even if it costs significantly more to purchase Intel hardware. They're cheap, they're fast, but you spend half your time chasing after ghosts and downloading 4-in-1 drivers.
Western Digital tech support responded quickly, but couldn't figure out what the problem was. ADS responded eventually, and apparently didn't bother to read the message before responding. Soyo never replied.
I've heard from one other person with a similar configuration and similar problems, so at least I'm not alone.
All of the above is Copyright (C) 2005 by Andy McFadden. All Rights Reserved.