Week of 21 June 2010
Update: Sunday, 27 June 2010 10:58 -0400
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010