Blog entries tagged with "hardware"

My desk

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 at 09:53pm

While I was recently required to stay at home I spent some of the time giving each room/area of my house a deep clean, for my study I took an updated panorama photo. This prompted a couple of questions about my setup so I decided to dust off a draft I started over a year ago, so where is an overly long post…

Most of the room can be seen in the panorama photos, but this is the main desk area:

Refined setup


The desk itself is an 1800x1800mm corner desk, importantly the sides are only 600mm deep (compared the 750mm you normally have for office furniture) which means that there is more usable space on the sides and less dead space in the corner. The corner depth might have been needed back in the day of deep CRT monitors, but not these days for LCD panels.

Back in 2012 I was looking in secondhand office furniture stores for another filing cabinet or similar when I came across a small 1200x600mm desk in the same light grey. It worked out quite nicely that it could be cut up to form additional side extensions.

I was able to find a secondhand desk that I could cut and use as side extensions, I originally only planned to extend one side, but both sides fit (along with some filing cabinets and shelves) perfectly in my study.

It was also at these secondhand furniture stores that I found two more drawer pedestals, but I will get to them shortly.


I try to keep the left hand side clear so it can be used for things like mounting a photo, assembling electronics or putting together LEGO.

This set of drawers has typical office/study type items, while the other boxes contain a variety of electronics and home automation components. The clear+orange ones are the Tactix storage containers from Bunnings.

On the far right I have my printer and scanner. These sit under Billy height extensions (the one over the printer modified to be narrower) that serve as hutches. The printer and scanner are sitting on drawers so they can be slid forward when needed to be used.

Working area

The corner area of the desk is where I have my main and secondary displays, keyboard, mouse, speakers, lamp and a powerboard. All of these items are powered from another powerboard mounted under the desk as is a USB adapter for my phone, the Macbook power adapter and a bluetooth audio receiver.

It is not immediately obvious but attached to the stand for the secondary display is the switch for a (now discontinued) Eco Switch. This is a nice simple physical switch that lets me kill the power to everything in this section, it is so much quicker and easier than having to turn each item on or off.

  • Main display is a Dell UP2716D that I am still quite happy with.
  • My secondary display has been a variety of small used monitors, starting at a 15″, then a 19″ that was being disposed of when we moved offices, with the current being a new 20″ that I got at the start of lockdowns. I know Dell isn’t the best company, but their displays work for me.
  • Of course the mouse is a Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical 1.1A. Because of where the join is on the desk I need to use a mouse pad, it was surprisingly hard to find one that was small, thin and didn’t have a fabric surface, this is a Razer Sphex V2 Mini.
  • The keyboard is a Ducky One TKL side-printed mechanical keyboard with Cherry Brown keyswitches. For a long time I had stuck with a set of old HP keyboards but back in 2018 I looked around and worked out that I liked the feel of the Cherry Browns, the idea of TKL aka tenkeyless aka no number pad on the right also appealed. I had no interest in RGB lighting or excessive amounts of macros so this keyboard suits nicely.
  • With the mouse being the oldest item in this section, the second oldest are the Logitech Z4 speakers which would date from somewhere around 2009. These are still going strong and I mostly like how the sub tucks away in the corner underneath and the speakers on the desk are quite small. I also like how there are two inputs, on the second one I have a bluetooth audio adapter, so I can play podcasts directly from my phone instead of through the computer.
  • A currently hidden item is a webcam, this is mostly used for work meetings and for that it sits on top of the secondary display, but when I am not needing to use it I put behind the display on top of the stand.
  • The final item in this section isn’t that visible, it is the two white USB-C adapters coming up to the right of my secondary display. These are for my work laptop which I will describe more below.

Computers and network

The next area of the desk are the items that are on all the time. A not a clock, modem and router, then two computers one my Windows desktop and the Linux box that acts as my file/media server, used for automating various things, and is also where I run Home Assistant. These are all running from a small Eaton UPS which gives me backup for a short power outage, but also stats on how much power these things are using.

The two computer cases are on top of what looks like another drawer pedestal, except it is only one draw high. This started out as a normal set of secondhand drawers, but I was able to cut it down to be just the single drawer. I didn’t want to put the cases up on the desk and they should not go directly on the floor, this was a nice alternative to the old Macintosh that I had previously used, plus gives storage for the bits and pieces directly related to these two computers.

Mounted to the back of this section of desk is an eight port USB hub connected directly to my Windows desktop. Two ports are for the printer and scanner, but another five are for the black cables that are sitting on the desk in front of Tux. These are for short term connection of things like hard drives or Arduninos for programming. I don’t have five because I expect to plug in five devices at once, but they are five different connections: B, mini-B, micro-B, micro-B 3.0 and a USB-C.

If you look closely there is a laptop sleeve and laptop sitting on top of the two computer cases. When the laptop is down there I am not in work mode.

Printer and scanner

Only part of the printer can be seen in the above photo, but the panorama shows that the remaining items of technology are my printer and scanner. Well, except for the shredder on the floor under the UPS.

There is nothing that special about the printer (an Epson R2800 that I got secondhand and is still giving good prints) or the scanner (an Epson V700 that can also do slides and negatives) themselves, but where I have them placed is unique. For a long time they were sitting on the desk and I was finding that things would accumulate on top, needing to be moved when I wanted to use the device.

To make best use of the space the the printer I picked up a Billy height extension unit, cut it down to be slightly wider than the printer and then build a sliding shelf for the printer. So I get the space to display Lego sets, but when I want to use the printer I slide it forward. It is a similar situation for the scanner, except I didn’t need to modify the narrower height extension and I mounted the sliding shelf to the top of the filing cabinet.

KVM and the work laptop

When I first switched to the current Dell 27″ display I was still using a dedicated KVM switch for the rare occasion when I needed to directly access the Linux box. By this point the KVM was quite old and despite being digital it was designed for VGA and PS/2. When I realised that the monitor has a built in KVM switch (switching USB instead of just keyboard and mouse) I removed a bunch of cable clutter by using that instead.

The Dell display also has an audio line-out port for audio that is coming over HDMI. Initially I thought I was just saving a bit of clutter by connecting the speakers to the display instead of over to the computer, but the real benefit came when I started working from home as the KVM was now also switching audio.

Going back to the white adapters I mentioned earlier, one is the typical USB-C to HDMI/USB/Power and the other is a USB-C to displayport. The end result is that I can grab my work laptop (a macbook) from under the desk, plug in the two adapters, keeping the lid closed, and then switch the inputs on my two monitors. This is what I consider “work mode” as the keyboard, mouse, displays, webcam and speakers are now all on the work laptop. At the end of the day I switch the display inputs back, unplug the two adapters and put the laptop away, I am now back in my personal environment :)

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The middle mouse button

Sunday, December 27th, 2020 at 03:19pm

My computer mouse of choice is the Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical 1.1A:

I don’t recall when I first started using this mouse, but it was a long long time ago with a white version in 2006 and then black versions from 2008 on. I have tried some other mice, but kept returning to this one. I prefer it so much that at some point I picked up a few of them (new old stock) as spares.

Over the years these have been very reliable for me, typically the fault being with the scroll wheel which is rectified by disassembling the mouse and giving the whole thing a clean. Having the spares meant that I could swap out the mouse immediately, then clean it later.

There has been one fault that a clean doesn’t resolve: when the middle button stops working.

Some people I know don’t think this is a problem, but I use the middle button a lot (second only to the left button) so for me it is a big deal. For example in a web browser to open a link in a new tab do I ctrl/command-click or do I right click and select “open in new tab”? No, I simply middle click on the link…

Good thing I have those spare mice as my first action was to grab one of those from the cupboard. Still doesn’t work. It it is software issue with Windows? Reboot, still doesn’t work. Grab my work Macbook, still doesn’t work. How about Linux? Doesn’t work there either. What about a different spare mouse? Ah…

I then tested the other spare mice and found that it was only those two (the one I had been using and the first spare I tried) that didn’t have a working middle button. Time to open one of them up to see if I could see anything obvious like dirt wedged in the button, nope it all looked good. Having two mice out of action would mean I would be down to one spare and replacements at this time are quite expensive.

While I had the mouse apart I noticed that the switch for the middle button appeared to be the same as the switches for the side buttons, the side buttons that I never use, so what if I unsoldered the switches and swapped them around? It took longer to get the soldering iron set up and find my solder wick, but I was able to restore middle button functionality.

Repeating the procedure on the other broken mouse meant that these two mice are now in the cupboard as spares, not being thrown away.

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An interference coincidence?

Monday, April 8th, 2019 at 07:30pm

Many years ago I started monitoring the power consumption of my house via a ZigBee dongle that communicates with my smart meter. The quick and dirty solution I did at the time stayed in place for a long time, until it started to play up…

The first symptom I noticed was that my script would hang, in itself not that bad, except that I was calling it directly from MRTG… which would cause the entire MRTG polling loop to hang, so I wouldn’t get any monitoring. In response I split the script, one to read the usage to write to a log, and another (called by MRTG) to read the latest entry in the log.

The reading script would still get stuck, so I added a generous timeout and stopped thinking about it. Until I thought it would be a good idea to also drop the usage data onto MQTT for Home Assistant to grab. Nothing wrong with this, except that I upped the frequency from once every five minutes to every minute. Sometimes it would fail for hours, sending an email with the error every minute…

I initially noticed the increase in timeouts around the same time that I upgraded the hardware in my linux box and did a fresh install of Ubuntu. Due to default permission changes I found that I could no longer simply cat the serial port, I needed to connect using Device::SerialPort, so I was thinking that there was something wrong with the usb-serial chipset or the driver.

That was until a few weeks ago, when I upgraded the hardware in my Windows desktop.

For a long time I have been aware of a slight ticking sound coming from that computer, you know the sound of a fan slightly hitting something or being slightly off balance?

The new build went great and although I didn’t really need the upgrade it let me do an upgrade that was required, to my parent’s computer. As I was handing down parts I thought that I could replace the power supply fan instead of buying a whole new power supply, so I powered it up and heard the same noise…

… coming through my speakers.

Oh, this is not a bad fan, this is a failing power supply.

So what does serial port problems in one computer have to do with a bad power supply in another one? Probably nothing, but since replacing that power supply I haven’t had a single timeout error, it is as stable as when I first picked up the adapter. I guess it is possible that the power supply was generating interference at around 2.4GHz…

Another thing I didn’t think was related was that the UPS that these two computers run from had started to shut down. Not in any graceful manner, but with a sudden power off followed by a loud continuous beep. I suppose it is also possible that a bad power supply could also trip the UPS…

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A few more pixels

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016 at 09:20pm

A few months ago I started to notice signs of age on my 24″ display, a solid colour was blotchy, as if the backlight was starting to fail. Oh well, it has given me over ten years of use.

I started to look into a replacement and quickly found that one division of the models is between gaming and non-gaming. For games there were displays with high refresh rates, though the colour range and accuracy wasn’t the best, but they did seem to be on the cheaper side of the scale. The other type typically used “professional” or something about colour in their name, but these were the ones that were coming up on top in reviews of displays for photo/video editing. A downside of the better quality was a higher price, but I got ten years out of the 24″ display, so I need to consider this a long term investment.

Something that I found disappointing was that most displays have settled on a 16:9 aspect ratio. My 24″ was 16:10 which meant a resolution of 1920×1200 pixels. If I got another 24″ display it would likely have a 16:9 aspect ratio which is a resolution of 1920×1080, but the reduction in height was not acceptable. In the 24″ size there were a few with a 2560×1440, yes this is 16:9 but it is greater in both dimensions, but I have briefly used a display of that size/resolution and I found that everything was too small. I know that these days scaling up the interface is a lot better than it used to be, but a 16:9 24″ display would still have a physcially smaller viewing area. This led me to 27″ displays which I found to be only available in 16:9 aspect ratio, but in three resolutions: 1920×1080, 2560×1440, and 3840×2160 (aka 4K). This was a Goldilocks scenario with one being a step down in resolution but larger physically, one that seemed just right, and the final one that was just overkill.

Now that I had a better idea of what type and size of display I wanted it was easier to locate reviews that covered those displays for photo editing. After balancing up the recommended models against price I decided on another Dell (the tipping point was finding a local store that was $200 cheaper than direct from Dell), then I sat on that decision for a while. There ended up being three Dell models I was considering, one released a few years ago, the current model which was similar in price to the earlier one but slightly less well reviewed, and the next model up from last year. My final choice was a UP2716D which I picked up just before Christmas and now my desk looks like this:

Switching to the 27" display

This is the end result of spending all of today of taking everything out, cleaning behind the desk and putting it all back in some kind of order. I do this every couple of years, each time I trying to keep it clean and organised for as long as possible. There are still some boxes to sort through, a tray is miscellaneous stuff and you don’t want to know what is in the drawers…

My old 24″ display had a card reader built into the side, this was very convenient whenever I wanted to transfer photos from my camera, such as when I took the above photo. For now I am using the portable reader that I keep in my camera bag, but I do have a reader in the cupboard that goes in a 3.5″ bay…

Another aside is that for the few days between my impulse purchase of a graphics card and getting the new display was that I was worried that I might have made a mistake. Most of the time the internet says that the maximum resolution of HDMI is 1920×1200, but then later versions of HDMI increased that. All I could find from Dell was that would be the maximum resolution if I used HDMI with the display I wanted to get, I would need to use DisplayPort to use the native 2560×1440 resolution. The new graphics card I got doesn’t have DisplayPort, it has HDMI, VGA, and DVI, so would I have to try to return it and get a different card? Maybe not as other internet searches led me to people listing what resolutions would work between various cards and displays. In the end it worked out fine, but the combination of poor or outdated documentation was annoying.

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A GPU for Lightroom

Sunday, December 18th, 2016 at 11:57am

In the four years since I last upgraded my windows desktop the only hardware change was that I had added hard drives for additional storage. On the software side it is also similar, except newer versions (Windows 10 instead of Windows 7, updated browsers, Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC, etc).

In mid 2015 when Lightroom introduced the ability to use the GPU my initial experience was negative as it broke the develop module. It was detecting the GPU in the onboard video, but was failing to use it properly. It turned out the solution was to install the Intel drivers instead of using the generic Microsoft ones. At the time there were people saying that unless you had a really high resolution display that you shouldn’t bother enabling the GPU, I didn’t notice a different either way so I left it enabled.

I don’t make panoramas that often, but I was glad that there is now merge functionality built into Lightroom, except when it fails. There was one panorama I was trying to merge earlier this year that would fail with an internal error, but it would succeed with the GPU disabled. I only had the default amount of memory allocated to the GPU, but increasing it didn’t help.

I haven’t played games for a long time so the onboard video was sufficient, but a small part of me started to wonder whether adding a graphics card with a decent GPU would be worthwhile. It doesn’t need to be a fancy gaming card, just something better enough than the onboard video.

Last Monday I went along to a Canon Collective workshop that was about shooting panoramas to make into little planets:

Federation Square

When performing the initial merge I found that it would again fail when using the onboard GPU, and then when the GPU was disabled Lightroom would max out the CPU and RAM, failing about half the time. So yesterday I picked up an Nvidia GTX 750 Ti graphics card, the second cheapest card available at local stores, but still rated around 450% better than the onboard GPU.

I don’t notice much difference while adjusting images, but based on what I see in task manager it is using less CPU and memory. However there is a big difference when merging images into the panorama. Where before it would take 15 minutes and all available memory, the same merge now takes around 3 minutes and about half the available memory. So a useful improvement.

The other thing that came out of the panorama workshop was the benefit of a tripod head that lets you pan independently of tilt. The Manfrotto 486RC2 ballhead that I use has one locking action, so to pan I used the kludge of rotating the tripod column. This isn’t ideal so on a whim I checked ebay, within 24 hours I had upgraded the ballhead to the (now discontinued) Manfrotto 488RC2 ballhead. This also came with a spare quick release and plate, which I believe I can use to make an L bracket, which will be a post for another time…

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A hardware refresh

Sunday, October 7th, 2012 at 11:18pm

Four and a half years ago I upgraded my home Windows desktop. Since then I had added RAM, switched to Windows 7 and replaced the hard drives, however it was still the same computer and was perfectly fine for most of my needs.

But not all, so for a while I had been thinking it was time for an upgrade.

One example of a frustration was the delay of around 10 seconds when loading an image for editing in Lightroom. This was only made worse by my upgrade to the Canon 7D earlier in the year, instead of loading a 10MB RAW file, it now had to load a 20MB raw file. I had been monitoring the disk and CPU usage, and it was clear that this activity was CPU bound.

Given this and some other specific performance issues (plus the feeling that after four years it was due) on Friday I bit the bullet and picked up a replacement motherboard, CPU, RAM and power supply to put in my existing case with my existing hard drives.

So far I have only described a like for like swap of components, with the biggest change having multiple monitor output built into the motherboard. There was one other change which has possibly given the greatest performance improvement: adding an SSD to the mix.

In order to best use the SSD (but without any automatic cache type usage) I changed where I store my data. On the SSD I have:

  • Windows
  • Firefox profile (with its browsing cache)
  • Lightroom catalogue (and its cache) and my “todo” photos.

With this setup Windows only takes a few seconds to load, Firefox loads almost instantly, and (most importantly) opening Lightroom and editing photos is now quick with the 10 second delay gone. Hopefully this will last me for another four years.

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Continuing with Linux for home server

Monday, December 6th, 2010 at 11:12pm

Not that long ago I decided that I would be switching to Windows (from Linux) for my home server, specifically running Windows Home Server (WHS). I wasn’t ditching Linux entirely, it would just be running within a VM on that server.

As I said at the time the primary purpose is as a file server. Both as a target for backups and for media. The media becoming more important than before as I will have a television in a lounge room to play it on.

The specific component of WHS that I wanted was called Drive Extender. This is a storage solution where you add the hard drives to a storage pool and you then define folders within that pool. A folder can be set to duplicate its files across multiple drives for redundancy, or to just keep a single copy. Individual folders don’t have limits, whatever free space is available in the storage pool will be used.

In contrast to the other options, where you had to preallocate space and at the beginning set the redundancy level, this is just so flexible. Running out of space? Add another drive. Case not really big enough for that extra drive? Mark one of the smallers ones for removal it the data is copied off it.

I was waiting for WHS version 2. At least I was until they announced that Drive Extender would be dropped. It is the prime reason I was moving toward WHS. Many others agree and if you read further you will find that Microsoft’s reasons are not very well explained.

So, without WHS I am back to Linux. What I am now planning is an updated version of my current server. This means an LTS release of Ubuntu and I will continue to use LVM for the disks, but with a difference.

Currently I have two drives striped for media, then a partition on the primary drive for backups. The current sweet spot for drives is 2TB, so I will get two of them with 500GB of each setup in a mirror for backups, then the remaining space striped for 3TB of space for media. That should be more than enough. For now at least.

The aspect of this that I haven’t finalised is how I setup the mirror. I can partition the drives, RAID them and then setup LVM on top. Or I can just use LVM for the mirroring. Further investigation is required.

In addition to storage I also still intend to use this box for recording broadcast television. While I am quite impressed with DV Scheduler, it is no longer suitable as it runs under Windows. While I have yet to look into it, I suspect that MythTV backend will be the solution there.

The other feature of WHS that I was interested in was the ability to perform a complete workstation backup to it. I can continue using my robocopy based method as I know that it works, but that is only backing up data. If I have a drive failure I will need to spend a non-trivial amount of time to reinstall. But I have time to investigate other options (including the backup built into Windows 7).

I will continue to write about this (in between house stuff) but I actually need to act fairly soon as I have been out of space on the current server for a week now. It’s not good.

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More Windows, less Linux

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 at 09:28pm

For many years I have run two desktop computers at home, a Windows desktop as my primary machine and a Linux box as a ‘server’.

This Linux ‘server’ started its life out routing internet. Over time it also became an (internal) web server, a file server, a mail server, etc. Over that same period of time it has stopped being some of those things. Also, for a period in the middle the services were split across two boxes, but then consolidated back to one, preston.

Right now core network services are handled by my router (WRT-54G running DD-WRT) so what services do I need:

  • Mail – but I am again considering moving that into the cloud
  • File sharing – both for media files and as a target for backups
  • Web server – mainly these days for internal interfaces for a variety of tools I have made, it has been a long time since I used the dev version of this site
  • Off-peak downloads – you know what this means
  • A variety of scripts – eg automatically downloading webcomics

Mail can be excluded as I will move it into the cloud, which makes file sharing as the next most important service.

Currently preston has 640GB for media and 260GB for backups. My windows desktop has over 2TB. This includes the primary copy of all my photos (around 200GB) but it also includes over 600GB that should be on the file server, but there wasn’t enough space.

It has been in the back of my mind for a while to at least upgrade the drives in preston. But that means going to SATA drives. So I would either need to get a SATA controller (preston is an aging P4 2.4 with no onboard SATA) or get a new motherboard/cpu/ram. I had decided to update shaun, my Windows desktop, to get two year old hardware. But since my recent signing of some paperwork I have put that on hold.

Why? Because I am quite likely to build a media centre in my new place. How do I make the media centre? This could be a computer with TV tuners running Windows Media Centre or MythTV, it could be a MythTV frontend with TV tuners in the backend, or it could be a simple device to play media from the network.

Due to ease of setup and use I am leaning towards Windows Media Centre. This means the backend only needs to be a file server. So how do you build a file server these days? With Linux it is still manual setup and apart from ZFS FUSE, the RAID options are still block level. I am drawn to the disk management that Windows Home Server offers. You chuck disks in and then at the filesystem level you can configure redundancy. Need more space? Just add another disk to the pool and it works it out.

But what about my scripts and other tools that run under Linux? I am not going to run them under Windows and I still want to have a Linux box available. But nothing says that the Linux box cannot be a virtual machine.

Some of the other feature of Home Server (eg backups) are also quite appealing. But for now I will wait for V2 to be released, sometime this year.

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A shiny blue device … for nothing

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 at 09:44pm

At work today was the second of three Christmas parties, this one for all of ITS. Normally these are not very memorable, except that for the last couple of years the prize draw has had a couple of nice items.

For the second time in a month (the CSS book from the last WSG meeting) it has been my turn. A blue 8GB iPod nano. Hmmm… shiny…

But do I want to keep it?

I have loaded music onto my phone, but I have only listened to it a few times. When on the bus/train or when walking up to the shops. So when would I use an iPod?

I have yet to open the packaging, which in itself is very nice. But I have noticed that after carrying it back to the office, being handled by people and then coming home in my backpack the plastic box has quite a few small scratches.

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A puzzling router problem

Friday, November 14th, 2008 at 07:25pm

This morning when I was woken up by the thunderstorms I noticed that there must have been a brief power outage as my stereo had reset. So I checked Preston, my linux server, and found while that it had been interrupted, it had restarted without any problems.

But I didn’t have internet.

The router was still up and the cable modem had all the normal lights on so it looked ok. I just could access any external sites. I case there was a problem with the cable network because of the weather that just wasn’t being shown I power cycled both of them.

When I checked it again the cable modem had reconnected and the router was running, but the router hadn’t been assigned an IP address. That’s not right, but I had to go to work and I hoped that it was just a problem with the DHCP server that would be fixed by the time I got home.

It wasn’t, and another reboot didn’t fix it.

Against the possibility that something was wrong with the router I connected my desktop directly to the cable modem. This worked which indicated there was nothing wrong with the cable network. So I tried the router again, it didn’t work.

In case the problem was just with the DHCP client in the router I tried setting the connection details manually. This still didn’t work.

The cable modem only accepts one client MAC address at a time, so each time I changed between my desktop and the router I needed to power cycle the cable modem. To save time I had the modem clone the MAC address of my desktop. This made it work. Yes, this doesn’t make sense.

After testing all the combinations again (including resetting the cable modem to defaults) I foudn that when using the router’s own MAC address no traffic gets through. However if I have it clone another address, even one I make up, it all works as before.

This setup has worked fine for a couple of years, what changed this morning?

I’m puzzled.

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Don’t run SATA optical drives under AHCI

Sunday, July 6th, 2008 at 05:43pm

One of the first things I did when building my new computer was to switch the SATA controller to AHCI. You know, because it is supposed to be better than the IDE emulation mode.

It wasn’t, at least for me…

Shortly after getting it all up and running I found that the system would regularily lock up. But only when burning a DVD which led to a lot of coasters. Thinking it was a driver problem I made sure I was running the latest ones, which partially fixed the problem. Now the burn would still fail, but the system wouldn’t lock up. Instead the drive would just disconnect.

Now I thought it was a hardware problem so I tried different cables, different power connectors and even a different drive (but still a Pioneer). The problem didn’t go away.

At first I researched problems with SATA and optical drives. Many pages ended up pointing to fix (KB928253) that seemed promising. But the fix for that was included in SP1, which I was already running, so I turned to another possibility that involved deleting the UpperFilter and LowerFilter registry entries (KB314060). This seemed like it might be relevant as I had had problems with installing burning software. But continuing the trend, this also didn’t work.

Last weekend I decided to do a fresh install. Partly to see if that would fix the problem, but mostly so I could start with a good install that I hadn’t experimented with. At first I thought this worked. Until the second DVD I tried to burn.

Which brought me to a solution I had discounted. During my research I had found pages talking about how SATA optical drives don’t behave properly under AHCI and the fix was to run them under IDE emulation. I couldn’t see why a recent SATA optical drive wouldn’t work properly under the native SATA mode, haven’t they bothered to implement the spec properly? Or maybe the controller doesn’t?

It has now been a week since I changed back to IDE emulation mode and it as been stable. I haven’t noticed any difference in performance so I’m not really sure what the fuss about AHCI being better is all about.

Aparrently there are motherboards that let you run part of the SATA controller in AHCI and part in IDE emulation. My board, an ASUS P5K Pro, does not support that. But I don’t think that would have affected my choice.

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No longer any Suns, but now have a Flip

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008 at 09:00pm

As of tonight I no longer have any Sun (or clone) hardware in my computer collection. It was a bit dissapointing that the eBay listings didn’t go beyond their opening price, but it is a lot better that they go to someone instead of being recycled.

Now I need to continue the sorting process…

With all of the Sun hardware leaving the house something did arrive, a Flip Video Ultra Camcorder.

I bought this (from the US through eBay of course) on (sort of) impulse last week with the intention of mounting it to my bike. 60 minutes is more than enough for my commute, but not enough for a longer ride. The next step with this is to work out how to mount it…

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Returning to Intel (and trying Vista)

Sunday, May 25th, 2008 at 03:13pm

Yesterday I upgraded my Windows desktop with a new processor (a shiny Core 2 Duo, motherboard, RAM, hard drive, DVD burner and power supply (actually swapping around the one I got for my linux box). What didn’t change was the case, the second hard drive and the TV tuner card.

The first significant thing about this is that I have been running the previous processor and motherboard, an AMD Athlon XP 2600+, for almost five years (23 July 2003 to be precise). I can remember a time when computers moved so fast that they were pretty much unworkable after a few years. This shows that to actually do things (except the latest games) you do not need the latest and greatest hardware.

The second significant thing is that I also made the jump up to Vista. After I turned off some of the bigger annoyances (google is your friend for this) it appears to be quite workable. On the old system this would have been a nightmare.

When I stopped to think about it I realised that while my linux boxes have all had Intel processors (Pentium 90, Pentium 233 MMX, Pentium 3 667, Celeron 1.7, and the current Pentium 4 2.4) this is the first Intel processor in my Windows desktop since the first computer I bought on my own, a Pentium 133 in 1996. After that I had a single Cyrix processor (166) followed by a series of AMD processors (K6-2 300, K6-2 250, Duron 650, Athlon XP 1800+, to the Athlon XP 2600+).

I also have to decide what to do with the old components which are enough to make a perfectly workable system. My previous method of using them to upgrade my parents computer doesn’t work since I made their computer an ex-lease small form factor desktop.

I am also now thinking about whether to upgrade Preston, my linux server, as well. In addition to the performace increase, properly supported SATA ports will be a necessity the next time I get around to upgrading the storage.

Meanwhile I will return to installing programs, but only as I need to use them.

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A use for that display stand

Sunday, March 16th, 2008 at 09:48pm

20 months ago I purchased a stand for my 24″ display but didn’t end up using it. For 9 months it has sat on my floor and before that it was being used by a friend on a 17″ display.

When I got the 24″ display I moved my old 19″ CRT (with scratches all over the surface) to my mum’s computer. Today I finally got around to replacing that with a nice Samsung 19″ LCD, but after setting it up I found that the stock stand was pretty hopeless.

Yes! A use for that stand.

While writing this post I discovered that it is two years to the day since I started this whole saga by getting the Dell display. It is still going strong.

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Fixing a whine by replacing a drive

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008 at 10:47pm

For the past few months the primary 120GB drive in Preston has been making a whining sound. It was gradually getting louder and even getting really annoying for short periods.

Back when I last refreshed the storage drives in Preston I was left with a pair of 160GB drives. One went into my windows box while the other went into an external case that I intended to use for backups. Even though I did find an external case with an internal power supply, I have yet to get one. Which means the the 160GB in the external case has had very little use in the past 15 months.

At the end of last year I refreshed the drives in Shaun, my windows box. From this I ended up with a 250GB drive that I put into the external case, freeing up the 160GB again.

Tonight I finally got fed up with the whine and I decided to swap out the whining 120GB drive by following one of many sets of instructions that I found after a search. Specifically the second response to this question, modified as appropriate.

For my future reference I entered the following after adding the new drive (as /dev/hdb) and booting into single user via one of the ‘Recovery’ boot options:

(three data partitions: /, /home, /backup)

$ fdisk -l
$ cfdisk /dev/hdb
$ mke2fs -j /dev/hdb1
$ mke2fs -j /dev/hdb3
$ mke2fs -j /dev/hdb4
$ mkswap /dev/hdb2
$ cd /
$ mount /dev/hdb1 /mnt
$ find . -xdev | cpio -padm /mnt
$ mount /dev/hdb3 /mnt/home
$ cd /home
$ find . -xdev | cpio -padm /mnt/home
$ cp -a /dev/* /mnt/dev/
$ cd /
$ chroot /mnt
$ mount -t proc none /proc

At this point I followed the instructions for installing GRUB on the new drive. Once I pulled out the old drive I found that the new one wouldn’t boot. Putting the old drive back in (now as /dev/hdb) I told the BIOS to boot from it which got me back into single user mode (boot loader from old drive, but new drive for partitions). I then found another set of instructions which told me to use the following which worked:

$ grub-install /dev/hda

I purposely didn’t copy the 60GB of backups from other computers in the house (mostly photos) between drives as their regular processes will copy it back if I leave them on overnight.

Despite warnings to the contrary, I didn’t have an issue with GRUB and the UUID of the drive as I am still running Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, If I was running 6.10 or later I believe I would have had an extra step to perform.

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Wednesday, October 24th, 2007 at 07:46pm

Earlier in the month the trick to change the status message of a HP printer resurfaced and did the rounds of various blogs.

As I had seen it before I didn’t think much of it. Until today when I was waiting for something to print and saw:


A quick poll of the likely suspects didn’t find the person who did it. Instead it got others interested. For a time it was hungry and at the end of the day it wanted to play some global thermonuclear war.

This trick seems to be spreading, people have even uploaded photos to Flickr.

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Even more failed fans

Friday, October 19th, 2007 at 07:46pm

After the failure of the rear 120mm fan in preston I ordered two replacement fans. One as a replacement and another as a spare.

But where did I get them? Initially I was looking at the site for a Melbourne based supplier of PC modding gear. The cheapest ‘low noise’ fan they has was AU$15.90, but postage was another AU$10. On the site for a popular Sydney based PC parts dealer a similar fan was at a similar price of AU$15.40. But that included postage. It should be obvious which one I went with.

Now, it was when I was installing the new fan that I noticed that the two fans in the power supply had also failed. For most of the week the only fans operating in the case were the front 120mm (low flow) and the CPU fan. I had been wondering where the hot component smell was still coming from.

So what to do? With a working rear 120mm fan enough air is drawn through the power supply to keep it cool. But this could be an opportunity to replace it with one that has removable cables that would reduce the clutter inside the case.

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More fan failures

Sunday, October 14th, 2007 at 05:38pm

Following on from the failure of the fan in my UPS I discovered that the 120mm fan in the back of preston has also failed. Considering that I got this fan along with a bunch of other random parts a long time ago (ie I didn’t get it new) it is actually surprising that it has lasted this long.

Digging through the cupboard I found another fan that it was a simple matter to swap with the failed one. I also took the opportunity to clean the 120mm fan and filter that is on the front of the case. It was almost solid with dust that had been accumulated over the past year.

One of the many things that has been on my list (only in my head, I should really give Hiveminder another go) was to give the system a once over in regards to dust and cooling. Right now I’m going to order some new (quite) fans and possibly a fanbus for greater control.

Related to this is that I also disconnected my systems from the UPS. A week ago there was a brief power flicker when I was out. Instead of keeping the systems up the UPS shut down. Then this afternoon the UPS decided to shut down for no (apparent) reason. This is where I step up my research into what UPS to get, in particular the linux support.

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The smell of hot metal

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007 at 10:18pm

This morning the fan in my UPS (that I got for free) failed.

When I got up there was a strong ‘hot metal’ smell near my computer room, but it wasn’t coming from preston, my linux server. This evening while I was emptying the bin I noticed that the UPS was unusually warm as its internal fan appeared to have failed. A spare 92mm fan, some double sided tape, a bunch of molex connectors later and the temperatiure is dropping. Albeit in a fairly noisy manner.

For some time I have been planning on buying a new UPS and it looks like I need to move that up. Unfortunately the 259 day (8 and a half months) uptime of preston (since the big power outage) is under threat.

Although that uptime was also under threat by my other long standing plan to rearrange my computers which included finally getting rid of gromit which has been shut down for almost a year.

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Scavengers are efficient

Monday, August 20th, 2007 at 09:06pm

Although I had itentions to cull my collection, I didn’t get very far. However, last night I did put a couple of items out for the hard rubbish collection.

Around 8PM I put out two old desktops (proprietary HP and Compaq units) that I had scavenged a couple of years ago. An hour or so later when I put out another two systems (the Pentium 233 that used to be Gromit and the Pentium II 266 that ran the network, served the intranet and played MP3s at our LANs) I noticed that the cases of the first two had been opened.

Then when I passed them on way way out this morning I saw that all four of them had been opened: people were checking out what components they had. The the later two they didn’t have much luck as I removed the drives (in case there was any identifying data), the RAM (might be usable in a Macintosh) and the CPUs (a friend collects them) before putting them out.

I am considering a bit of scavenging myself. I spotted a Powermac 7200 series system on my way home. If it is still there tomorrow morning I’ll have a look to see it it has an intact foot thing that is used when unfolding the case…

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Shedding power

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007 at 09:29pm

This afternoon there was a mass power outage that affected most of the state.

So how did this affect me?

Firstly it made the ride home interesting as I pass through a couple of major intersections that turned into a free-for-all as there was no power for the traffic lights. I had one near miss while crossing Ferntree Gully Road when a car decided to floor it through two moving lanes of trucks…

Secondly I was able to see how long the UPS I got for free would last which I can determine from the MRTG logs on preston (my linux box that was the only device running from the UPS):

  • My router last responded at 4:10PM. This gives me a five minute window (until 4:15PM) for when the power went out.
  • The last uptime entry (i graph the system uptime in seconds) was at 16:55PM, again with the five minute window.

This means that the UPS powered preston for between 40 and 50 minutes until the batteries ran flat. Once I move the router and cable modem onto the UPS I should easily get 30 minutes of runtime which is more than ample to handle most of the blackouts I have experienced. If shaun, my windows desktop, was also running I would be surprised if I get 10 minutes…

And what was the uptime? 8,209,932 seconds which is just over 95 days. I think this is the third longest uptime for preston (it wouldn’t have been so high without the UPS riding me through some small outages) with the longer times being 115 and 105 days. In comparison I never exceeded 100 days on gromit, my old linux box.

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Second time’s the charm

Sunday, December 31st, 2006 at 03:46pm

Two months ago I failed in an attempt to switch my internet routing from Gromit, my trusty but aging linux box, to my Linksys WRT54G router. A few days ago I tried again. Unfortunately I encountered the same issues as before: difficulty establishing connections.

Then I came across a page on the DD-WRT Wiki talking about slowdown issues and how to fix them. From this page I realised that I had completely missed the display and settings related to the maximum number of IP connections. Even with Azureus sitting idle there were at least 400 connections. Considering that the default limit is 512 it is not hard to see how it may be the cause of my connection troubles.

A quick change later (maximum connections up from 512 to 4096, timeout on both TCP and UDP down from one hour to ten minutes) and all is well. So far I have been running with these settings for a day now and if I have no problems until next weekend I shall be able to disconnect Gromit and reorganise the desk, in particular the cabling.

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Shutting down machines

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006 at 03:41pm

Yesterday I moved my mail setup to my newly reconstructed linux box (more about my postfix, procmail, dovecot, fetchmail and spamassassin solution later) and this afternoon I moved the core network functions of DHCP, DNS and internet gateway over to my WRT54G router (running the DD-WRT firmware). These were the last two services my trusty linux box Gromit was running (for the past 30 months as a Pentium 3 666) which enabled me to simply power it down. My immediate plans are to leave it on the desk until next weekend when I plan to do a big cleanup of the desk (eg move it to vacuum behind and rearranging the cables) at which point I will put it in the cupboard. I will leave it intact on the off chance that I need to switch back or recover something I have missed.

The other machine I turned off today was the temporary preston that was running in parallel while I rebuilt preston with new (and bigger) hard drives. Sometime this week the machine itself will get a fresh install of windows so it can replace my parent’s computer. Of the hard drives that used to be in preston: one 160GB will become the primary drive in my windows machine, the other 160GB will go into a USB external case for backups and the 80GB boot drive will go into the cupboard for a month or so until I am absolutely sure that I have not missed anything.

For the past few weeks there have been three linux machines on 24/7, my windows desktop on whenever I was home, and my PowerBook. There is a noticable different in the noise with only one of the three linux machines running…

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My God! It’s full of pixels!

Thursday, March 16th, 2006 at 08:19pm

For months now I had been thinking about replacing my 19″ CRT with two 17″ LCD’s or (more recently) a single 20″ widescreen LCD. On Tuesday night I decided that I might as well give myself a treat so I ordered the Dell 2405FPW, a 24″ widescreen LCD display which has had decent reviews. One contributing factor was that they are currently 20% off as a replacement model is due to be released soon.

It arrived today and it is impressive… Unfortunately my KVM doesn’t support the native resolution of the display so I am taking advantage of a direct DVI connection to my main workstation and leaving my two Linux boxes running through the KVM on the analog input of the display. This now makes switching less convenient than it used to be so am I considering running VNC to bring the display from Preston up in a window.

One other issue at the moment is that the included USB cable is not long enough due to the configuration of my desk. This will be as simple as buying a longer cable…

Note: a few days after I originally posted this I changed the title from ‘Lots of screen real estate’ to the current 2010 inspired title. Although I thought it was from 2001 but that may be the book instead of the movie…

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Hardware hacking

Thursday, September 1st, 2005 at 11:33pm

Tonights Open Source Developer’s Club meeting was very interesting. Up first was Paul with his talk on mind control which was excellent.

However the second talk by Jon Oxer was more interersing as it reminded me of the plans I had for various projects. Much of Jon’s talk was about how simple it is to control other devices from the parallel port. One example he gave was how he could recieve an SMS on his phone whenever mail was put in his mailbox at home…

Some of the hardware projects that I have been thinking about for a while now are:

  • Getting a barcode scanner to make it easy to inventory all my books, dvds and even computers. (and if they don’t have barcodes then I could possibly print some out…)
  • Finish wiring up the LCD displays I bought about five years ago to the parallel port.
  • Then use the LCD displays for something useful
  • SMS gateway. This could be done by interfacing with an actual mobile phone and one possible use to to query my book database to see if I already have a particular book.
  • Temperature monitoring using the 1-wire sensors I have had for about 2 years now

However these are unlikely to move until the following move:

  • Sort out my computer collection. (this could actually benefit from the barcode scanner)
  • Consolidate my linux boxes which includes using an off the shelf router for the routing.

I just have to find the time…

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I have way too much junk

Sunday, December 19th, 2004 at 10:39pm

After helping Damien clear out some stuff when I was over at his place on Friday night I was inspired to sort through some of the stuff that I have collected over the years. Like him I have come to the conclusion that I have to be rutheless by classifying most of it as junk and throwing it away. For instance why do I have a box full of old ISA IO cards? I no longer have any 486 computers to put them in and any motherboards more recent (which I only have a couple of) come with IO onboard. The same goes for the box of network cards, the box of sound cards, the box of floppy drive cables, etc.

There is some stuff I will keep for purely sentimental reasons such as my original SoundBlaster 16 and CD-ROM. What this item has going for it is that it has now been returned to its original packaging, including the speakers and manuals. If I could just find the rest of the driver disks it would be complete.

One thing that I found that I had thought I had lost was a CD set that came with the July 2000 APC magazine that contained Red Hat 6.2, BeOS Personal and OS/2 Warp 4. This means that I could have a functional OS/2 system using this and the old hardware from Gromit (Pentium 233, etc)…

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New drives

Sunday, November 7th, 2004 at 05:48pm

On thursday I picked up a pair of new 160GB hard drives, WD1600JB’s to be precise, and I have just finished rebuilding Preston with them in a new case that I also cleared out the 120mm fan hole for. Photos are available including some before shots. Once I have copied all the data from the LVM set with the faulty drive to the new set made of the new drives and verified that all is ok I will be pulling out the old drives to leave Preston with a more modest total of 400GB (381GB if you want to count properly).

One good thing that I have learned since my earlier post is that the faulty drive is still under warranty until July next year. Now what to do with three 80GB drives…

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It’s official…

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004 at 10:14pm

Earlier tonight I downloaded the SeaTools Diagnostic Suite and I used it to perform two full tests of all three of the Seagate drives in Preston.

And hdc, the odd drive out, was reported as having quite a number of bad sectors. I decided not to let the utility attempt to fix the errors as I then won’t be able to tell which files are corrupt without testing them all one by one.

Time to organise some new drives although I believe I will lose the ability to monitor the temperature of the drives directly if I go for Western Digitals rather than Seagates…

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Hard drive errors

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004 at 06:15pm

Doing duty as my media storage and backup box is Preston, one of the two boxes that is always on. In it are four 80GB drives, one Western Digital WD800JB and three Seagate Barracuda IV‘s. The three seagates are combined into a single logical volume using LVM.

On the weekend as I was copying music across to Shaun in order to back it all up on to DVD’s I noticed it pause a couple of times during copying. Further investigation led me to discover a large number of instances of the following two lines in the kernel log:

hdc: dmaintr: error=0x40 { UncorrectableError }, LBAsect=42315658, sector=42315480
hdc: dma
intr: status=0x51 { DriveReady SeekComplete Error }

I was able to tell from the transfer log which files had paused and I was able to verify that they were corrupt and the errors appeared in the kernel log.

While the three drives in the logical volume are the same model one does have a couple of differences:

  • It is mounted differently in the case which means it runs hotter as there is not as much airflow as over the other two
  • It is connected via the motherboard IDE controller rather than the Promise card
  • It is around about 4 months older than the other drives
  • It was used as the boot drive in Shaun before moving into Preston

Another thing the kernel log shows is that the previous occurances of these errors was back at the start of October, the same day that I transferred a copy of most of the data across to a friend’s box. This indicates that the error has been there for a while but it hasn’t been evident as I rarely access those particular files.

Fortunately only one of the three drives has experienced the errors, the one that is different as explained above. I seriously doubt that the issue is with the onboard IDE controller as the boot drive is operating fine. Googling around brings me to the conclusion that this drive has developed a fault and I should replace it…

But with what? Do I spend AU$99 on a replacement 80GB? What about spending AU$278 on a pair of new 160GB drives? This last option does have the advantage of giving me an additional 80GB capacity with one fewer harddrive to mount and keep cool. Then what do I do with the two perfectly good 80GB drives?

There is even the option of replacing the faulty drive with a 160GB. This gives me the additional capacity but has the much more tricky task of rearranging the data on the drives rather than copying from the old volume to the new volume.

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New case for Shaun

Saturday, September 25th, 2004 at 05:04pm

Today, only four months after buying the case, I got around to moving Shaun, my main windows box, into a new case. It is part of a long term plan to move Preston, my media storage box, into the case now vacated by Shaun as it has space for plenty of drives…

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Almost one hundred days…

Saturday, August 21st, 2004 at 08:27pm

If the power hadn’t gone out earlier tonight then with an extra one day and eleven hours Gromit would have been up for one hundred days. As it is ninety-eight days is the longest Gromit has been up for anyway. Surpassing the previous record of eighty-two days

Anyway it gave me an opportunity to add the additional 128MB, that has been sitting around since I tested it almost a month ago, into Gromit. Not that it really needs it but it can’t hurt… Unless it is dodgy like the last time but there was a reason I tested it…

Now to find a reason to finally rebuild Preston and Shaun…

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Wireless is good

Thursday, June 17th, 2004 at 09:20pm

Today after lunch I pickup up a Linksys Wireless Access Point Router and right now I am sitting downstairs watching TV…

Even though I got a router I’m only going to use it as an access point as my linux box Gromit does that duty. And since I’m planning to put it out at my mum’s computer (it’s in the centre of the house) the four port hub will mean I can retire the old hub that is currently allowing her computer and the print server to be on the network. Also the router was $10 cheaper than the access point…

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82 days, longest uptime for Gromit

Friday, May 7th, 2004 at 11:03pm

Tonight I decided to cut the longest uptime for Gromit, my linux box for network services, short at 82 days so I could add another 128MB of RAM (to the existing 128MB, it is only a P3 667) that I have had lying around for quite a while. The second longest uptime was 54 days that started back in October 2000 with kernel 2.2.12 (I know this thanks to uptimed).

Before the upgrade one of the processing script I would run at least once a week would take almost an hour because it was constantly in swap due to the 100MB of data that was loaded into memory. Now it takes a little over ten minutes…

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Gromit finally upgraded

Sunday, February 15th, 2004 at 03:49pm

The afternoon I finally got around to transplanting the hard drive and network cards from the Pentium 233 that used to be Gromit – my linux server for internet, mail, home directory – into the slimline Dell Pentium 667 that I bought secondhand at a swapmeet back in October 2003.

It is currently sitting on the top of my desk while I get around to making a hutch so it can sit under Shaun (XP desktop) and Preston (Linux media box) where the old Gromit still resides.

All this was done in a room that sat at a nice 32 degrees all afternoon. At least it wasn’t as bad as yesterday; 40 degrees outside and 38 inside.

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New hardware is always nice

Sunday, October 19th, 2003 at 07:25pm

Actually old hardware, but new to me so it is still good…

I picked up a second hand box – Dell Optiplex GX110 small form factor, Pentium 3 667, 128MB, CD, floppy, onboard video sound network – at the swapmeet today in order to upgrade gromit.

Pity I won’t have the time to shuffle hard drives until next weekend…

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