hardware

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Ah yes, time to get back to technology.  Today, I will try to persuade you to only buy a Chromebook if you are in a very select group of individuals.  This group is smaller than I had thought before.  In fact, I would say that the OS on these devices are crippled.

A Chromebook will work if you use all Google products and that is all you would like to use.  All others should look elsewhere.  Yes, there is a convenience factor as well.  The niceties fade quickly though.

My first though was that the device would make a good media player.  It is a good media player — if and only if you only watch videos from the Internet.  If you have your own media files you would like to play, they may or may not work.  The only video player you get is the one provided with the device.  It is limited in its capabilities.  It would play some of my home movies with video and no audio.

One of the biggest disappointments with Chrome OS is that it is strictly an Internet OS.  Note that it is not an Intranet OS.  You cannot share files through common methods with computers on your local network.  Please keep that in mind.  It is one of the biggest differentiators between Chrome OS and a typical OS.  For me, it is a deal-breaker.

The other flaw of the device is hardware related.  There should not be a fan in any Chromebook.  We are used to not expecting fans in these cheap devices.  We have the expectation of silence.  Some Chromebooks deliver on this, others don’t.

Chromebooks are cheap and provide good hardware for the money.  At the end of the day, it comes down to the question, “Can I be productive with this device?”.  My recommendation would be to go with a device based on Android instead.  An Android device is far more capable and will, most likely, enable you to be more productive.

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Lots of great stuff going on.  The one that I’m writing about today is my desktop system upgrade.  There is a stark reality when buying computer hardware now-a-days.  “You are not fast enough to keep up with your computer.”  It’s true.  There is nothing I can do to keep up with the speed of my computers.  If you are not into gaming or some other really resource intensive activity, I really cannot recommend that you go out and buy a $200+ processor.

Being that I am not the normal computer user, I don’t abide by the previous stated rule.  My main system has been running an Intel Q6700 for some time.  What a great processor it was! But, the time to change was now.

There comes a time when computer equipment gets old.  Old is, of course, relative.  In this case, old meant that it did everything fine, but after 5 years, something better has come along.

The operating system I run is built from scratch.  Everything that is installed is run through a compilation process that can take quite a while to complete.  This allows me to gain insights into how my computer runs that is useful for someone in my field.  The problem is that this process takes a significant amount of time.  A rebuild from scratch can easily take over a day.  That process needed to be faster.

To measure the speed difference on the new setup, I timed the building of one of the most important components of the system:

gcc build on old Q6700

real    28m7.051s
user    62m49.460s
sys    5m35.580s

gcc build on new FX-8120
real    18m57.720s
user    72m16.450s
sys    4m44.720s

It’s a single measure, so don’t take it as authoritative.  What I took away from this simple test is that my system is roughly 33% faster on this task.

So why choose Bulldozer CPU when all of the reviews say it is a disappointment?

Two of the reasons are already listed.  It’s faster for my uses, so it didn’t matter that it wasn’t the fastest.  The kicker was the price.  Sometimes, when you find a good deal, you get tilted in a specific direction.  This is especially true when I can’t max out the capability of either of the options anyway.

$333.33 went to the purchase of the FX-8120 CPU, ASUS Sabertooth Motherboard, and 8GB of ram (purchased in May of this year. Yeah, it took a while to get this post out of my head)

$179.99 was gained through the sale of old equipment

After subtracting some fees involved, I have about $175 invested in the upgrade.

Knowing that AMD is going to keep the same CPU socket for a few years and also knowing that the Sabertooth motherboard is still one of the best out there.  I am happy with the future prospects of this setup.

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The last piece of hardware that I expect a failure from is the motherboard.  There are no moving pieces, not much wear and tear.  Plus, I spent $250 on the last board.  It was an AW9D-MAX; top of the line when it was purchased.  I would expect it to last more than 2 1/2 years of off and on use.   Now that you already know what went wrong, I’ll lay out the troubleshooting that finally lead me to this conclusion.  Motherboard issues are extremely hard to diagnose.

My computer began power cycling itself for seemingly no reason about a month ago.   The times it would occur were inconsistent.  I could narrow it down to times when the system was under a lot of stress.   Kernel compilation combined with watching a flash video would take the system down within 2 minutes.  I also noticed that the crashes weren’t always the same; sometimes I would catch a glimpse of a kernel panic when on the console.

Instability is an awful thing.  It prompted me into action quickly.  The first things that were changed out were the processor and the video card.  They were recent purchases, changes I was going to do anyway.  The issue still persisted.

At this point, I went off the path.  Every kernel or BIOS feature that could cause instability was checked.  I went though 10 different kernel setups, flashing the BIOS, and resetting the BIOS to factory defaults.  In a final attempt to convice myself that this was not an OS issue, I reproduced the problem on a live CD.

Memory can go bad at times.  I proved this was not the case by two methods, switching out DIMMs and running memtest86+.  The problem wasn’t the memory modules.

There were only two options left.  The power supply and the motherboard.  At this point, all hope of a painless fix were lost.  It was time to spend some hard earned money.

I started by replacing the power supply.  I have had power supply issues before that had caused flakiness.  When a system is under load, a poor power supply (or one with insufficient wattage) will no longer be able to power the components of the system.  I decided that getting a modular, 80+ efficiency power supply would be worth it even if it wasn’t the issue.   I am now the proud owner of an Enermax EMD625AWT power supply.

The Enermax power supply is great.  The fan doesn’t spin up unless the power usage is high, so it stays nice and quiet.  After reading a bunch of reviews on it, I am totally convinced that I made the right call on purchasing it.  However, it was not the problem.

The problem was the motherboard.  It had to be, there was nothing else.  That story is for another blog post.

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As you probably do not know, I am the proud owner of a Tech Romancer cabinet.  The cabinet’s life as a one trick pony ended shortly after the purchase, and it is now a very capable mame box.

There is one large issue with having a computer inside of a large, wooden box.  Where’s the power button supposed to go?  The easy solution is to run cables off of the current power switch to some other button that is placed in a more convenient location.  This approach was considered, but I didn’t like it.  I thought that remote control was the way to go with this.

Looking back, this may have been a just for fun decision.  Although, running wires and modding the computer would have been more work.  The main driver was that the computer could not easily be removed once the button was in place.  Also, the location to put button wasn’t obvious.

It is a little known fact that there are some always on power coming from the computer’s power supply.  IMon takes advantage of this and created products such as the Imon Inside.  This gives the ability to receive remote signals even when the computer is in a powered down state.  Once the motherboard’s power button is rerouted to the Imon Inside, the computer can power itself on remotely.  How cool is that?

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story.  The Imon device operates via infra red signals.  These don’t travel through 1/2″ of wood well.  My initial tests worked great when the computer was out in the open, but not when placed inside of the cabinet.

There is a solution to this problem too.  I honestly didn’t think I’d find a cooler product than the Imon, but I was happily mistaken thanks to the Next Generation Remote Control Extender. It turns out that they make an RF transmitter that poses as a AAA battery.  By replacing one of the batteries with an RF transmitter and putting the RF receiver in the cabinet by the infrared receiver, the signal was remote was now able to push commands through the cabinet.

Success was finally mine.

Materials

Imon Inside ~ $60  Purchased at Newegg
Next Generation Remote Control Extender ~ $33 Purchased at Amazon

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