Monthly Archives: April, 2016

PC haggling and Core 2 Quads

Someone said something to me the other day that makes a heck of a lot of sense. The PC today is now “fast enough.”  Case in point, the gains made by PCs in the last few years have not been about speed but power and cooling. They are “fast enough.” The person also said that the sweet spot for speed/cost is actually a Core 2 Quad. I looked up some benchmarks and he’s got a great point. I’m using an AMD Athlon 64 4000+ as my main PC, and it’s not bad. It’s got lots going for it, and it runs very smoothly. It bogs down now and again when ripping/encoding music and playing godawful Youtube videos @ 720p. (Big deal, folks. I am not impressed even at 1080p). 

This AMD is an old Optiplex from Dell, so it’s a nice small form factor and most of all it’s quiet. It’s no speed demon, but it’s almost “fast enough.” (I keep putting that in quotes because it’s a good phrase to focus on, and I didn’t come up with the insight on this one.) I am not under any delusion my old PC is going to wow anyone rendering real-time wrinkles and human hair at 1080p. But considering the idea of that is pointless to me. I want worlds created that don’t exist in the real world. I don’t need “realism” in my games. I need fantasy worlds so awesome I want to live there. And by “awesome” I don’t mean 1080p realtime drop shadows and smoke effects. That’s for kids who don’t know better. I have more fun with a game that has 0 graphics (nethack) than I do with the Witcher 3 and all its shaded glory.

This wasn’t supposed to be about games and tech. It was supposed to be about my soon-to-be new (to me) $88 Intel Core 2 Quad PC with 8GB RAM and a mini tower case. Whatever Intel graphics it has, I’ll most likely use my GTX 750 video card, since it’s nice, PCIe and not doing anything right now (because my optiplex is too thin.)  If the PSU is weak, I’ll just use my GT 730. It works fine with nouveau driver and Debian 8 (my GT 610 is running right now, and it’s quite nice.)

Let’s dwell on that for a moment. I just paid $88 for a PC. Of course I’ve already said my $5 (plust $29 shipping) current PC has been wonderful (and will continue to be a main PC since I still have a nice KVM), so a recent PC with a Quad core processor for $88 is a steal. Most people want i7’s and whatnot. I want the “fast enough” PC. When you run Linux, fast enough is far far less powerful than you’d think. Even with Gnome 3 (something I’ve grown to like recently) my Athlon here is not hiccuping at all on the graphics. I turned off some of the stupider effects that just show the desktop off (and have no practical value), but for the most part I can switch between apps faster on Debian than my A10 Windows machine. That’s more an indictment of Windows than the A10 (a nice APU.)  I have no qualms about being cutting edge. Heck, my retired Dell Outlet Inspiron with Athlon Dual core 4300 with 6GB of RAM was a workhorse that I finally retired when I got my ill-advised Quad Core monster PC that is now as dead as Disco.

There’s “fast enough” and “better than good enough.” And as far as I can tell with the Core 2 Quad, you get both. I’m looking forward to my 2nd Debian machine running Gnome3. 🙂 I think I’ll resurrect the name Nostromo, to go along with my Optiplex’s Sulaco. My AMD Athlon 1st gen is Binky, and my Windows game machine is Spiff.

I’m not that creative with names. I just like Nostromo and Sulaco. They are awesome names, from an awesome franchise (Alien), taken from an awesome author (Joseph Conrad.)

Miscellaneous Stuff

It’s April 20th and I don’t smoke pot. So, in lieu of laser-sharp focused insight and a craving for Cheetos, I will talk about something else. Keyboards? Nah, I have some more planned for that later. Let’s see…. the perfect office chair.

 

I have yet to find the perfect office chair. I know it’s a tall order, but I’m still looking. I have tried cheap ones, flat ones, tall ones, and ones that are supposed to be made by the Tempurpedic people. None of them have been all that great, but not many of them have been as terrible as you might think. I like a few of them, if only their cushions didn’t wimp out after only a couple of years of use. Supposedly, anyone over 180lbs is not going to like most (all?) office chairs. That’s the limit most of the Staples/Office Depot/etc. chairs put on their tags. It’s funny, because I see people well in excess of 300lbs buying those chairs. I guess my 237lb frame is just in the sweet spot for blowing out foam cushions over time. They don’t literally explode like an airbag, no. They simply flatten and I have to buy a cushion from Wal Mart or Khols. I like high-backed chairs so I can sit like Tony Montana reading my computer screen (usually playing a game.) I like to sit up when typing or working on code (like writing a blog entry.) It helps keep my shoulders from hurting and after all the literature and pamphlets from school about good posture, I think they may be onto something. So what’s a computer nerd to do when the perfect chair is elusive? Keep trying I guess. I’ll get another one when Staples sells off their mid-range junk for “Back to School” or something like that.

 

Another issue that’s been bugging me is computer prices. They’re coming down, don’t get me wrong, but they are not like they used to be when eBay had lots of off-lease machines from Dell for $50 or so. I got lots of good PCs that way. In fact (as I’ve said in other blog posts) a $35 computer is indeed capable of running a Gnome 3 desktop distro like Debian 8. I turned off some of the eye candy (I do that no matter what PC I have. It’s a gimmick.) I use it daily and I’m totally impressed. But the problem is, those $5 computers (with $30 shipping) are getting harder to find. People are obviously getting older PCs for things, and the market’s getting scarce. I have to keep my eyes peeled. It was ridiculously easy before, but not now. It’s a new fad. 🙂 I wonder if hipsters are buying up older desktop PCs to be ironic? Bleh.

 

I suspect one day, I’ll get a nice Xeon quad core because some company auctions off their old lease stock. I don’t really feel like building another one. I found out that I’m out of practice and things are way different today than they were when I put together my 286-12 PC on the kitchen floor when I was 16. 🙂

PC Gaming

I know people love their PCs for gaming, but I have had my fill of patches/updates to the Windows OS. I sat down at 7pm this evening intending to play a game or two, but as of now (1opm) I have not been able to because I haven’t turned on my Windows PC in two weeks. The sheer number of “patches” are astonishing. That wouldn’t be such a big deal, but apparently every patch these days requires a reboot. Sorry, Windows, I don’t have to do that when I patch my Debian machine. The only time I truly “need” to reboot is when the kernel changes (not the modules associated with it, but the actual kernel). It makes you wonder why people still use Windows. It’s certainly not because all you need to do is turn it on to play games.

This is how Microsoft’s consoles are too. “Please wait, you must update your Xbox to sign in to Live.” Blah blah blah. Yep, this is one of the reasons I use Linux as my main operating system today. Not because I hate Windows (I do, but for good reasons) but because I am tired of rebooting and resetting and installing “updates” every few days that require a reboot. If it didn’t require a reboot, it’d be fine. But Windows takes far too long to become responsive after a reboot for it to be something that reboots this often. I know there are plenty of people who will disagree, and I’m not going to try to change your mind how you feel about Linux, but give it a try. Just one time. You might be like me and become a full-time Linux user that keeps a Windows machine out of curiosity. When Microsoft quits supporting Windows 7, I’ll be turning that machine into a Linux box. It’s the right thing to do. I might simply turn it into a SteamOS machine. 🙂

WASD Keyboards are awesome

WASD keyboards are da bomb. There, I said it. I love the bloody thing. I have Cherry MX Green keys, with white and green keycaps (and blue Vim cursor keys, and orange WASD keys.) Soon to have a Debian logo for my ESC key and Navy Blue WASD with arrows. Neat, eh?

The thing about mechanical keyboards is either you don’t like the sound or you do. I do. I’ve always had that affinity (I wish I still had my Model M.) And it feels better while typing. It’s not ergonomic, but it’s also not spongy. It’s perfect for me. I make mistakes typing, so the feel of the keyboard is important, so I know where my hand needs to go to hit backspace, etc.

I used to use (daily) a Filco Tenkeyless Ninja keyboard (I’m munging up the name, but it’s a Filco Tenkeyless) with Cherry MX Black keys. It’s a bit harder to use, and good to use even for long marathon games of Zork. The only problem is (was) with it was the lack of a numeric keypad. The only reason I need a keypad is because I’m going to ascend in Nethack. By gum, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to die on the 3rd level. Not anymore. 🙂

Anyway, this has been a slow week (and it’s only Monday.)  I’ve got more junk to think about and spew, so it’ll show up soon. Otherwise…. NACHOS!!!

The Life and Death of a home-built Frankenputer

I mourn the loss of my bright blue monstrosity today, as I can’t quite figure out what the heck happened to it. I was using it as usual on Thursday, and Opera webpages started crashing. Much like before with Chrome and Firefox, the page would just go south without me moving the scrollbar or anything. I figured it might be the driver, so I reverted to nouveau (I had lockup problems before that I had attributed to heat then nVidia drivers), but when I rebooted, it was only 1280×1024.  For some reason, nouveau couldn’t recognize my monitor (the nouveau driver on my Debian machine did fine, so I figured something was mis-configured.) After fiddling, I hosed the X server (my fault) and so I booted into a live CD to delete my changes. It was certainly moving slowly (the live CD, I mean) but I thought nothing of it and fixed my errors. I shut down from the live CD and that’s when it started. The system would POST test, get to “Verifying DMI pool data” like it has done since I bought it, and then proceeded to reset back to POST. I got the same single beep (a short one) that I got since the beginning, and I never thought of it being a warning beep before (all my machines beep once when they start normally). But I read online that possibly there was a problem with the memory. So the next phase of the investigation would commence.

I fiddled with RAM (removing sticks, etc.) and nothing helped. It still went back to the main POST test each and every time. I tried removing all the drives (except the boot drive), and I tried running with just a DVD writer, but the same thing happened each time. I set the SATA controllers to IDE legacy with no luck. AHCI didn’t work either. It was as if all drives failed at once and the machine couldn’t handle the strain. At this point, I didn’t care all that much (I was tired of fiddling with this machine that has been temperamental since I bought it.) So I gutted the machine and booted up my $5 eBay Dell Optiplex (Athlon II w 4.5GB RAM and an 80GB HDD) to make it my primary PC. The Dell was $30 to ship, so it cost me $35 total, but I still like to call it my $5 PC. It’s not as fast as my Quad Core Athlon, and it only has a Geforce GT610 video card (I could put a 730 in it, but I haven’t bothered, since the 610 is fine for my purposes). I like it though. It is running now with 8GB of RAM (I salvaged from my other Dell Inspiron that was replaced by the blue monster), and it is running Gnome 3 very snappily. It’s going to have to do until I decide where to head next. I think since I’ve had EXCELLENT luck with refurbs and eBay, I am going to continue buying used PCs and not really attempt another build until I can devote 100% attention to it and buy the proper (not cheapest) components. I have a nice tower case that will hold my RAID when I get more drives, though. So it’s not a total loss.

It’s amazing that a $5 PC I won on a lark (with no HDD and no RAM) would work flawlessly and rather well, and the Quad core machine that replaced a refurbished Dell Inspiron with 6GB of RAM (that ran for 5 years without a hiccup) crapped out in 7 months. I guess you can see how I’m going to buy PCs in the future, right? 🙂