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Week of 21 June 2010


Latest Update: Sunday, 27 June 2010 10:58 -0400

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Monday, 21 June 2010
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09:44 - It's the first day of summer, and five weeks until the final deadline on the new edition of Building the Perfect PC. Barbara and I spent most of yesterday building and shooting images of the server system, which was already in progress when her sister's system failed. We'll probably finish shooting images of the server build tonight and then set it aside so that we can start work on the budget system, which will be her sister's new system. Once we get the budget system built and imaged and ready to roll, we'll return to work on the server system chapter.

When we're shooting images of these builds, I always think about how much easier (not to mention cheaper) it is with digital cameras. We shot close to 300 images yesterday, of which we'll actually use maybe 10% or 12%. That may sound like overkill, but when we're shooting close-ups inside a cluttered case it's nice to have a large group of similar images to select among.

In the past, we used on-camera and slave flash, which made it impossible to see the image as we shot it, so it was even more important to have lots of images to select among. This time, we're using four gooseneck lamps with 23W CFL bulbs, for a total equivalent of 400W of incandescent. Although CFL bulbs run cooler than incandescents, that's really relative. More than once, we've had to take a break during shooting because Barbara's hand was being overheated by four CFLs only inches away.

Still, the CFLs do make it easier to get at least one usable image. I might shoot 3 or 4 images of a particular step now, where in the past I might have shot a dozen. That not only cuts down on shooting time, but also on the time needed to evaluate the images and choose the ones I want to use.

I was hoping to have all six project systems built and imaged by the end of the month, but it looks like we'll have only four or perhaps five done by then. Still, that's well within schedule.


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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
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09:14 - We finished building the server system last night, shooting 57 more images as we did so. Once I verify that we have good versions of all the images we need, we'll set the server aside temporarily and start work on the budget system for Barbara's sister. That one should go together pretty quickly, we hope in time to get it to her this coming weekend. She runs Ubuntu, so for the time being I can just drop in her original hard drive to save time. That drive is also four years old, but it shows no signs of developing problems. Still, I'll pull a backup of it. Once the deadline craziness is past, I can replace it with a new drive.

Oh, and yesterday my YouTube channel passed 3,500 subscribers, 33,000 channel views, and 100,000 video views. That's much slower than I hoped, but still not bad. I actually created the channel in January, but it wasn't active until mid-February, so those totals are really for about the first four months. At the current compound growth rate, I'm hoping to pass 10,000 subscribers sometime this coming autumn. That's still a small channel compared to the biggest ones, but very respectable nonetheless.


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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
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09:46 - The first draft of the server chapter is done and off to my editors, and I'm well into the budget system chapter. We'll have a quick dinner this evening and then set up to do some images of the build. What images we don't get shot tonight we'll do tomorrow night. I'll spend Friday finishing the chapter and making sure we have everything we need before we deliver the system to Barbara's sister.

Sunday, I'll start on the mainstream system, followed by the media center system, and finally the extreme system. Speaking of which, I see that Antec has officially announced the new case that I'll be using for the extreme system, the Dark Fleet DF-85. Here's the product flyer. My contact at Antec wasn't sure she'd be able to get me a DF-85 in time for deadlines, but it arrived last week. It isn't shipping yet, and I'm pretty sure my sample is literally one of the first ones off the boat. I suppose one has to be a true geek to get excited about a computer case, but I'm really looking forward to using the DF-85 for my new main system.


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Thursday, 24 June 2010
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00:00 -



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Friday, 25 June 2010
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09:38 - We finished building and shooting images of the budget system yesterday. Actually, we finished most of it Wednesday evening, and I spent yesterday writing up the build section of the chapter. Last night we shot a few final images. We did a quick smoke test with no display, keyboard, or mouse attached. The system seemed to spin up fine.

This morning, I pulled the hard drive from Frances's old system--a 160 GB SATA Seagate 7200.7--stuck it in one of my external docking stations, and copied their data up to my drive array. Later today, I'll move the new budget system into the den and connect it up to the external peripherals from my den system. I'll also temporarily connect Frances's old hard drive to see if the Linux configuration on it is recent enough to support the new motherboard (I'm a bit concerned about the Ethernet, but we'll see). If not, I'll install Ubuntu 10.04 on a new 500 GB Barracuda, although I'm trying to avoid doing that for time reasons. If the old drive works as is, I'll leave it in there until things are a bit less hectic and then replace it.



15:10 - Well, the older version of Ubuntu on Frances's original hard drive didn't recognize the new hardware, so I just bit the bullet and installed Ubuntu 10.04 on a new 500 GB Seagate Barracuda. The system feels a lot faster than I expected. In fact, if I didn't need to do processor-intensive tasks like video editing, I'd be perfectly content with this as my main system.

With one exception, Ubuntu 10.04 is very nice. Unfortunately, that exception is a big one, although it's easy enough to fix. Here's what I just wrote for the budget system chapter in the section on installing Linux. It'll appear as a warning box.

Unspeakable Evil

Speaking of changing the appearance of Ubuntu, we're big fans of Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular, but the Ubuntu interface designers must have taken leave of their senses when they were busy making improvements for Ubuntu 10.04.

In a completely gratuitous change that borders on Pure Evil, they moved the minimize-maximize-close window controls from the top right side of the window to the top left side. But that wasn't evil enough for them, no. They also changed the order of the buttons! Arrrrghhh. If these folks were designing a new car, they'd probably change the location and order of the clutch, brake, and accelerator pedals.

Fortunately, it takes only a few seconds to put things back the way they belong: Press Alt-F2 to open a run dialog. Type gconf-editor in the box and press Enter. In the left pane, expand the apps item. Scroll down to metacity and expand it. Click the general heading under metacity to display the configuration items and values in the top right pane. Double click the button_layout item to bring up the Edit Key dialog. Change the Value field to read menu:minimize,maximize,close and then click OK to save your changes. The change takes effect instantly. All of your windows will now have the controls where you expect them to be, and in the proper order.



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Saturday, 26 June 2010
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09:36 - Barbara just headed over to her sister's house to deliver and install the new system. It ended up having a 19-hour burn-in, which is sufficient. SMART says the hard drive is fine, and running at 33 C. The processor is running at 36 C, so the bundled AMD CPU cooler and the case fan are doing their jobs. The system is, if not silent, at least very quiet.

With the exception of the windows controls, I really like what I've seen of Ubuntu 10.04. At first glance, a Windows 7 user might mistake Lucid for OS X, and an OS X user might mistake it for Windows 7. Barbara and I will definitely be running it on our new systems.

With the budget system complete, it's time to start on the mainstream system. That'll be built around an Intel Core i5 661 processor, which at the moment is priced on the high end of mainstream, but by the time the book hits print will be solidly in the mainstream. It's "only" a dual-core processor, but it supports two threads per core and compares well in performance against AMD quad-core processors except in environments that benefit from having four physical cores. The flip side is that in situations that don't really benefit from having a large number of physical cores (which, for many people, is most of them) the dual-core Intel Core i5 will outperform a tri- or quad-core AMD.

Intel is actually showing some mercy for AMD with current Intel pricing. As it is, Intel prices the Core i3 processors in the high-budget to low-mainstream territory. There's no real reason Intel couldn't position the Core i3 against AMD's $60 to $125 processors, which would pretty much blow away AMD in that segment, forcing AMD to sell its current mainstream processors as budget processors (which carry smaller margins). Intel could then position the Core i5 in the $125 to $175 range, which again would wipe out AMD's offerings in that segment, forcing AMD to sell their fastest processors (which they can't produce in unlimited numbers) in the mainstream price range. That leaves the performance market (and prices) all to Intel. Of course, Intel is still ramping up the Core i-series processors, so they may well take this approach in the coming months.



A reader sends me a link to this document, which attempts to rank the 50 states on freedom. Obviously, they made some key assumptions that affected the rankings dramatically. Their evaluation includes various breakdowns, such as personal freedom, economic freedom, and regulatory freedom, but it also presents the following overall list.

1. New Hampshire 0.432
2. Colorado 0.421
3. South Dakota 0.392
4. Idaho 0.356
5. Texas 0.346
6. Missouri 0.320
7. Tennessee 0.284
8. Arizona 0.279
9. Virginia 0.275
10. North Dakota 0.268
11. Utah 0.250
12. Kansas 0.210
13. Indiana 0.208
14. Michigan 0.206
15. Wyoming 0.193
16. Iowa 0.183
17. Georgia 0.146
18. Oklahoma 0.143
19. Montana 0.125
20. Pennsylvania 0.102
21. Alabama 0.092
22. Florida 0.068
23. North Carolina 0.019
24. Nevada 0.013
25. Mississippi -0.004
26. Delaware -0.008
27. Oregon -0.009
28. Nebraska -0.018
29. Arkansas -0.023
30. South Carolina -0.040
31. Alaska -0.071
32. Kentucky -0.082
33. West Virginia -0.097
34. Louisiana -0.110
35. Minnesota -0.111
36. New Mexico -0.150
37. Wisconsin -0.199
38. Ohio -0.205
39. Maine -0.214
40. Vermont -0.217
41. Connecticut -0.225
42. Illinois -0.238
43. Massachusetts -0.242
44. Washington -0.275
45. Hawaii -0.304
46. Maryland -0.405
47. California -0.413
48. Rhode Island -0.430
49. New Jersey -0.457
50. New York -0.784

Some of the ones near the top of the list surprised me, as did some near the bottom. The top ten are intuitively reasonable, but Utah at #11 was a surprise. Similarly, with the exception of Washington, there weren't any surprises in the bottom ten, but Maine at #39 and Vermont at #40 did surprise me. And I wouldn't have guessed Alaska would be way down at #31. At #23, North Carolina was respectably just above average, which corresponds to my own take on living here.


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Sunday, 27 June 2010
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10:58 - Barbara and I spent yesterday morning and early afternoon doing household chores. I'd intended to start building and shooting images of the mainstream system, but we were both tired so I decided to take the rest of the day off. We'll get started on the mainstream system today, an Antec Mini P180 case with an Intel DH55TC motherboard. I still haven't decided which processor to use.

In the (currently, and likely to remain so) $200 range, the Core i5-750 is the standout choice, with four physical cores (although it lacks hyperthreading and integrated video). The Core i5-750 is nearly half as fast as the $1,000 Core i7-980X we'll use in the extreme system. The dual-core/quad-thread Core i5-661 is also an excellent processor, but not at its current $200 price. It's noticeably slower than the Core i5-750. At $150, the -661 would be a killer choice, and I think it's likely that it will be in the $150 range by this autumn. Right now, the best $150 processor is the Core i3-550, which will probably be in the $125 range by this autumn. That should leave us this autumn with the $200 Core i5-750 on the border between mainstream and performance, the $150 Core i5-661 solidly mainstream, and the $125 Core i3-550 on the border between budget and mainstream. I think we'll probably go ahead and install the -661, in the expectation of a price cut.


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