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Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Gigabyte Adventures

Back last July, I reported that my desktop PC was periodically rebooting itself - usually at the worst time, like in the middle of a long, unsaved Photoshop edit.

That PC was a handbuilt affair, assembled in May 2002 by my brother Mark's technopal, Steve Becht, from pieces I ordered from Newegg.com. Steve is a great guy who knows more about PC guts than anyone that I know, and he's very generous with his advice and his time. There are so many PC's he's assembled out there that Mark and I started referring to them as Becht®PCs.

Anyway, Steve built and set up the PC for me, and it soldiered speedily and without a hitch until the rebooting started last year. Steve generously offered to look at it for me, and soon determined that I was suffering from burst capacitor syndrome, an ailment of quite a few motherboards made over the previous year or two.

At about the same time, my good friend and Wunderprogrammer Woody Butler mentioned that he had an excess PC made from leftover parts from one of his many, continuous upgrade projects... a 1gHz Duron with 512MB RAM - not as speedy as the Becht-made Athlon 1800XP+, but very, very cheap and ready to plug and play. So I decided to let the Becht®PC sit for a while and began to use the "Woody PC," upon which I'm typing this blog post at this very moment.

I had actually bought another PC from Woody about a year before - sort of. I had decided that I wanted to put a PC on my home network to act as a server, running Windows 2000, SQL Server 2000, and Internet Information Server. That way, I could practice my database and web development skills. As it happened, Woody had just done an upgrade and had a complete set of PC innards that he let me have at a good price. I stripped the guts out of an unused UMax 300 mHz PC, one which still had a perfectly good case, power supply, floppy drive and network card, and installed Woody's parts. So now I had a little server of my own.

Now if you're counting, the "Woody PC" I bought last July brought the desktop PC count in the Rosenbach household to two working and one nonworking. Whoops, I forgot Ben's eMachine, a 366 mHz Celeron box that he still used as a recording and mixing console for his band.

At my Mom's late last year, I was using her dial-up internet connection one night and got totally frustrated with how slow the whole mess was. And it wasn't just the slow connection - it was her ancient 166 mHz PC with all of 48 MB. Over the years, "Operating System Decay" had set in and slowed it to a crawl, even when not connected. So I decided that Mom should have a new, or rather, newer, PC.

And it just so happened that Woody was getting rid of yet another one, this time a 1gHz Athlon with 768 MB RAM, so I bought that one. Once I got it home and loaded Windows XP, I realized that it was quite a lot more than what Mom needs, so I thought I'd keep it for myself. Mom would get the eMachines 366 - I figured that once Ben and I would reformat and reconfigure it, it would be more than enough for her.

By early January, I had a little money come in from a small MS Access consulting job I did, and I decided it was time to fix the Becht®PC. A new ASUS motherboard ($74), a video card ($33) and 1GB of DDRAM ($133) was what SteveB suggested, so that's what I ordered. Newegg delivered less than 48 hours later, Steve did his surgery, and now I have an even speedier PC than before (the motherboard bus speed is higher, and the separate video card and extra RAM really help programs like Photoshop fly.)

But wait, that's not all... daughter Leah talked us into buying her a spiffy new laptop last semester, and she returned the 900 mHz HP Pavilion that we got her two-plus years ago.

With a manual keyboard-video-mouse (KVM) switch bought on eBay, Ben and I set up our "Lab" in the basement with 4 PCs, ranging from the 900 mHz 256MB Hewlett-Packard to the 1.4 gHz 768MB "Woody" server. That's in addition to the Becht®PC, which is going on my office desktop.

With both Leah and Ben home for the time being, we also have three laptops, connected wirelessly to our network. So if I counted right, that's eight computers running chez Rosenbach (the little eMachine is awaiting a memory transplant and a hard drive graft before leaving for Mom's.)

So what are we (Ben and me) gonna do with all those computers? Beats me. I think it's the result of a sort of addiction, like when I started collecting Soviet rangefinders, and later on Praktica SLRs. I started with one, and before I knew it I had thirty or so.

Actually, I'm hoping "the Lab" will prove more directly useful. I'll dedicate one PC to beta software, so that I don't have to worry about messing up a "production" PC. The Windows 2000 machine with SQL Server 2000 and IIS will remain pretty much as it is. One machine will become a domain controller, and we'll convert our peer network to a Windows Domain. File server, print server?... why not? I'm basically an application and database developer, and I don't know much at all about networking, so it will be an opportunity to learn. One of the boxes will host Cold Fusion Server and other Macromedia development tools - that will be for Ben, who at eighteen is the senior Cold Fusion developer at the small company where he works part-time. Finally, I'll get my flatbed and film scanners off of my desk and hook them up to one of the "Lab" computers.

Whatever happens, I can tell you that our basement, usually an icebox in the Winter, is quite toasty right now.

C&O Kanawah 2-8-4
You didn't think I'd let you read all this prose without a single photo, did you? Not that it has anything to do with my Gigabyte Adventures, but here's a shot of a "Kanawah 2-8-4" locomotive that belonged to the C&O Railroad, a photo from my visit to the B&O Museum last Saturday. This beautiful monster was built by Lima Locomotive Works in the mid-1920's.

Well, you could look at it as a giant heating apparatus...though I suppose there are probably more cost effective ways to heat your basement;)!
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