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Our home office finally enters the 21st century

Posted: May 05, 2009 in Tech

A few weeks ago, a foul smell appeared in our home office. It was a bit of a stench of burning electronics, or plastic, or both. I finally traced it to the root cause, which was the power supply on Jessica's PC. It seems that the PSU died and dumped a good bit of voltage into the rest of the system. The machine had been acting a bit flaky, losing USB devices and things like that, so it was probably time to retire it anyway.

Both of our computers were getting a bit long in the tooth anyway. Hers was a P4 2.4 with a gig of ram and onboard video, and mine was an Athlon XP 3200+, also with a gig of ram, and an NVidia 6200 LE video card. The drives on both machines were ancient IDE dinosaurs, and moved about as fast as one. I used the blown PSU excuse to get new machines for both of us.

I decided that Jess would be better off with a nice Laptop that she could take with her on business trips. We looked at a bunch of really speedy (and pricey) laptops before settling on an HP G60-230 which has 3GB of ram and a 2GHz dual core processor. It also has a nice 16" display, and it came in below $600, not counting the $60 rebate. I also picked up a copy of MS Office 2007 Professional for her, so that she would have the same software at home and at work. Unfortunately, the laptop came with Vista (yuck) which has yet to officially break. It's proving to be a bit of a pain with wireless networking though. Maybe once Windows 7 is mainstream, we can upgrade the laptop and be rid of Vista.

As for my machine, I kept my excellent Cooler Master case, and only replaced what I wanted to upgrade. This consisted of an Asus P5Q Pro motherboard, an Intel (first Intel chip in around 12 years!) E8400 Core2 Duo (3GHz per core), 4MB of G.Skill DDR2 1066 ram, an NVidia GeForce 9500 GT video card (512mb), and a Corsair 650TX power supply. For storage I picked a Western Digital Caviar Black 640gb SATA hard drive. The drive has dual processors and a beefed up platter arrangement. Very nice piece of hardware!

For my OS, I stuck with Ubuntu Linux, moving to the latest release (9.04) in the 64-bit version. I also went with the EXT4 file system, which is supposed to provide a slight performance improvement over EXT3. They're really getting good at the Ubuntu setup program, as I was able to install the OS in no time at all, with no major tweaks. Not even any minor tweaks. The only things I had to tweak in fact were optional programs that I run, like conky and my desktop manager.

This new release of Ubuntu was supposed to focus on quick boot times, and I have to say, they really hit the mark. I can boot from dead cold to the desktop in around 12 seconds. This is especially amazing considering that 3 seconds are lost in the grub menu (a short countdown to give you a chance to change boot options) and another short delay before my desktop manager launches. It's unbelievably fast. I can boot my Linux machine up, shut it down, and boot it up again before my old Win2k machine would be booted the first time.

The speed of the new machine is quite impressive too. I realize that moving from what I had before to what I have now will exaggerate the experience, but it really, really is quite speedy. Firefox opens faster than it used to maximize, and the machine is not phased at all by running multiple instances of pretty much anything and everything.

This machine should last me for another 4-5 years, which was sort of the point of me building it. My needs are pretty simple, so I'd rather pick some decent parts and forget about it for a while than buy cheap stuff and have to constantly upgrade.

Pretty packed in, but runs pretty cool nonetheless (34 deg C).

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