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灰から、新しいパソコン

Thu 9 Sep 2010 by mskala Tags used:

Geekery below. This entry is in English notwithstanding the title, which is supposed to mean "from ashes, a new computer."

I'm on the way to fixing the PC woes mentioned in the previous entry. Had a bit of a revelation, which I felt like sharing.

First, some history. My first Linux computer was named ruby, and it was an EISA 486DX/33 purchased by my parents. It dual-booted Linux and OS/2, as you could probably have guessed. That was what I did my computing on through the 90s. Toward the end of that era I also bought and briefly used a 386SX laptop unofficially named uranium, but since it ran DOS, it doesn't count.

Around 1999 I bought a dual-CPU Celeron 433 based on the now-classic Abit BP6 motherboard, named diamond. I scrapped the 486, and doled out most of its parts to members of the Edifying Fellowship. I did a lot of good computing on that machine, including all the experimental work for my Master's thesis, and I took it with me to Waterloo and it served as my main home computer until about 2004.

Circa 2004 I embarked on the great project of building, from scratch, an aluminum geodesic sphere computer case of my own design. That was a great project and I had fun with it, but I made at least one serious design error and two execution errors. The design error: the thing just wasn't built to be maintainable. Important parts were under other important parts so that the whole thing had to come apart like a Chinese puzzle, each piece removed in exactly the right order to free other pieces, on any change. It was meant to be built once and then stay together permanently. The first execution error: incorrect bend allowances on some folded metal strips making up the frame, with the result that the upper dome of the case would never really fit right on the lower dome, and the plastic panels which were supposed to fill in the triangular spaces making up the dome, became much harder to fabricate because each of them (I think there were planned to be 80 - I have the thing in front of me but it's hard to count) had to be its own unique shape.

The second and more serious execution error: I put computer parts inside and got it up and running as soon as I could, instead of waiting until the case was finished. Obvious consequence: in the 6 years or so since that time, the case never did get finished. I have had incomplete parts of it sitting around my apartment that whole time, and the chassis itself sitting open and exposed, with dust growing thick inside the power supply. I had fond hopes of putting up a Web site with all the plans, and photos of the finished product, and getting it featured on Slashdot, and so on, but I couldn't do any of that until I finished it and I never did finish it.

So that was opal, my main computer from 2004 until last night, when it died. If diamond was the machine that got me through my Master's, opal was the machine that got me through my PhD. The older machine, diamond, got a new DVD burner and became a backup server. It gradually decayed; I eventually had to remove one of its CPUs to improve reliability, and that was when I discovered that the yahoos I bought it from had stuck an inventory-control sticker between each CPU and its heat sink, which can't have been good for reliability or thermal performance. A few months ago I tried to boot it up, it appeared that the remaining CPU had gone bad as well, and it was actually on my to-do list for this week to try to get it running again long enough to run another round of archives. Not really backups, I'm doing backups mostly in other ways now, but I still want the DVD burner for archiving.

Also in the last year or so, emerald died, was replaced by an Intel Atom-based fanless system also named emerald, and I bought the laptop on which I am typing this. Its name is moria.

Which brings us to the present, more or less. This evening after a poorly-attended meeting at work and after my Japanese lesson, I came home with a newly-purchased power supply which may or may not be what opal needs, and I started attempting to disassemble opal to swap in the new power supply. It was not easy. It's been so long since I took this machine apart that I don't remember how all the pieces come apart, there are bits that have "settled" in the years since I last made the attempt, so that they don't easily come apart at all, and I was thinking to myself, okay, I never want to have to take this case apart again, and ideally I don't want to even put it back together again this once...

And that's the revelation: I don't have to!. I'm probably going to buy a new computer in the not too distant future anyway. I was pricing 2TB hard drives online today (against the possibility that opal is unsalvageable and will need to be replaced) and at the prices they are, it's ridiculous I'm not RAID5-ing them already. I have diamond sitting here in a perfectly good store boughten case. It has a DVD burner in it which is in good shape and I still want to use... but diamond itself seems to be kaput and will probably be scrapped, given that it's obsolete. Probably only the CPU needs to be replaced - the venerable Abit BP6 will probably outlive everyone reading this - but it doesn't make sense to put a fresh Celeron 433 into anything these days. Really, diamond mostly already is scrapped.

So... I propose to take apart opal (really, I already have), not put it back together, rip the guts out of diamond and scrap them, and put the guts of opal into the case of diamond, with opal's hard drives but diamond's DVD burner. I'll still call the result opal because that's the name of the home directory partition, really; but the point is I end up with a machine that does what I need, and a bunch of extra parts that can go to scrap. The only really tough thing is emotionally giving up on the idea of ever making the sphere case really complete. And one thing that will help with that is the idea of not having to move it when I go to Winnipeg.

This plan assumes that opal will in fact come up, once it has a new power supply (which could be the one already in diamond, or the new one I bought today). I hope it will. If it won't, I need a new motherboard at the very least, because I have no remaining motherboards in usable condition. In that case I limp along with the laptop and firewall, drop a grand or so for a new motherboard, CPU, RAM, and hard drives, and build a new machine. If I don't have to do that immediately, I probably will eventually, but the pressure is off.

It looks like an all-nighter tonight, and it looks like I'll run out of rum and PC Cola (about one shot and one litre remain, respectively), and I have to go to Waterloo tomorrow. But I've survived worse.

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