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Welcome to my blog, which was once a mailing list of the same name and is still generated by mail. Please reply via the "comment" links.

Always interested in offers/projects/new ideas. Eclectic experience in fields like: numerical computing; Python web; Java enterprise; functional languages; GPGPU; SQL databases; etc. Based in Santiago, Chile; telecommute worldwide. CV; email.

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New Computer - Components

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 4 Mar 2007 20:50:33 -0300 (CLST)

I just finished installing SuSE on a new server with around 1TB RAID. 
This is the first time I've ever successfully "built" a computer in one go
(I've "rebuilt" my old server over time and once failed to build a cheap
kit - eventually I paid someone to solve memory and BIOS problems).

I'm not particularly "into" hardware, so I was apprehensive at first and
then, later, surprised at how painless it was (and how cheap - about half
the price of an equivalent machine from Dell, as far as I can tell). 
Below I'll explain how I decided what to assemble.  Later, I hope to also
write notes about the RAID install.

It's a fact of Chilean life that you need to work with what is available -
it's no good planning to use the latest and greatest hardware without
first checking that it is in the shops.  So the hardware choices I made
were driven largely by availability.

While that sounds restrictive, it has some advantages.  First, if you plan
carefully, you end up with common, commodity parts, which means lower
prices.  Second, by choosing mainstream you help guarantee a future supply
of replacements in later years (an argument to avoid buying high-spec but
rare components, even if you do happen to find them).

Despite all that, though, I still want a good computer.  I want decent
specs that will last.  My old server, which is clearly dying (hence this
purchase) has been good for 5 or 6 years now.  I'd like to repeat that.

I decided to use a company called PCFactory - http://www.pcfactory.cl -
for several reasons: they're "straight" and professional; they have a
large stock; a couple of their shops are within walking distance of my
house; they aim at the higher/professional end of the market; and their
website clearly displays the availability of different components (numbers
in stock at different sites).

So, a couple of nights ago, I started clicking around their site trying to
piece together a machine.  After a little playing around I found two
correlated parameters that fix a lot of choices: AMD v Intel and clock
frequencies.

At this point the Wikipedia page on DDR2 memory was very useful -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDR2_SDRAM - and I was starting to see that
Intel were going with 533MHz, while AMD seemed to be pushing higher
speeds.

For non-laptop machines I've always bought AMD - they've consistently had
more bang per buck.  But that was in different circumstances.  Here in
Chile it seems to be tricky to get memory that's faster than PC2-4200. 
That's the 533MHz stuff, and reflects the Intel dominance in the local
marketplace.

So memory drove the basic choice - I went with Intel.  Next I looked at
CPUs.  The latest Intel chip seems to be (for consumer level) Core 2 Duo. 
And there's a clear price break between 2.13 and 2.4GHz.  So I went with
2.13 (I wasn't sure whether Core 2 Duo was worth it - maybe Pentium D
would have been OK, but seemed to be single core and with different bus
speeds).

Next came the motherboard.  In the past Asus have seemed to be reliable,
and are common here, so I worked through their boards until I found one
that (i) took the Core 2 Duo and (ii) allowed for at least 3 disks (I was
hoping to use RAID 5).  I ended up with the P5LD2 SE, which takes a
maximum of 4GB memory and 4 SATA disks.  The 4GB memory just matched what
was available (anonymous 1GB sticks) and seemed like a reasonable size (I
decided that a future upgrade path - one I used with my old server - might
be a better motherboard in a couple of years time, when the technology has
moved down to the "cheap" end of the spectrum).

For disks, the best size/price was Western Digital 320GB (all reasonable
priced disks were 7200 and anything above 320GB was expensive).  Four, in
RAID 5, gives just under 1TB free space - I'm hoping to store TV programs
on this in the future.

That fixed almost everything.  I chose the second cheapest case (it was
prettier than the cheapest!), the cheapest black DVDRW (an extra couple of
dollars more than beige to match the black case), and the cheapest video
card (more than powerful enough for X11/text display on my monitor). 
including cables, the price was about 860.000 CLP (about 860 pounds, 1700
US$).  The power supply was one I have used before that seems to be solid
(Super Talent - Codegen Vulcan).

In retrospect this seemed like a good time to buying a new machine.  Not
just because my old one is failing.  It feels like a bunch of "new"
technologies (SATA, 64 bit, dual core, DDR2) have all become completely
mainstream (it's interesting that none of the technology is compatible
with my old machine - even the graphics card has changed from AGP to
PCIE).  Hopefully things will now remain stable enough for repairs to be
possible a few years down the line.

Andrew

2.4 Better Than Thought

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 4 Mar 2007 22:28:45 -0300 (CLST)

I just found out that the 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo has twice the L2 cache size
and so is worth the money.  Ah well....

Andrew

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