Building a PC

The kids' PC was noisy and slow. The Mac mini buzz was very tempting (once again, ToMacOrNotToMac), but after going over Micro Center specials and a linux hardware buying guide with Brennan, we chose to build/upgrade our own, for around $150.

postscript: see retrospective in advogato diary: Building a PC... end of an era?

Brennan is ready with the new case and power supply, CPU, motherboard, graphics card, and RAM.

The case is open, showing the power supply and nifty screwless drive mounting hardware.

UPACode 761345926003

Brennan mounts the motherboard in the case.

After a bit of pushing and shoving, the motherboard is secured with 6 screws.

Brennan studies the case and motherboard documentation.

AMD® Boxed Sempron Processor 2500+ (1.75GHz)

The CPU itself, before installation.

Tada! The CPU is installed.

Brennan points out the CPU with heatsink and fan.

Ready to install 0.5GB of ram.

The old 400mhz MyFavoritePC machine is stripped of hard disks, CD ROM, and wireless network card.

The wireless network card, disks, and CD-ROM are ready to go in.

The fully assembled box.

4:19pm. It boots! Hm... won't boot from CD-ROM.

5:30pm The kids are gathered around the new box, playing games.

Times are U.S. Central time, 29 January 2005.

Choice of Components

The Mac mini buzz had me itching for a new machine; while it's inexpensive by apple standards, it was going to be more than $600, even with educational discount, by the time we add a wireless network card and RAM. I have been tempted by the $100 rebate on CPU+motherboard on the build-it-yourself page of the Micro Center advertisements for months, but always too intimidated by the bewildering array of options; this week they nominated a combination of case and power supply, CPU, and motherboard etc. for $239.93 after rebates:

Since I already had disks, it comes to $160.91 (including $24.57 sales tax, and after $190 of rebates).

I tried finding comparable parts at newegg (ala djb's recommendation) but these rebates are impossible to beat.

The first time we turned it on, it didn't boot, but seating the RAM card fixed that. Then it wouldn't boot from CD-ROM. I worked around that by using the Ubuntu linux installation from the previous machine; it just needed a tweak (after a little googling) to the X11 config to use the radeon driver. After much hair-pulling, I discovered the CD-RW drive was actually bad, and grabbed one from DirkMachine. Installing Ubuntu then went without a hitch. The kids like Cartoon Network games and the like, so I'm relying on some unofficial ubuntu support for stuff like flash.

The Micro Center clerk had assured me that the motherboard would work with the Sempron, though it may not be as fast as it should be without a BIOS upgrade. Sure enough, the KT600-AL bios update for Sempron microcode made it noticeably snappier. I was able to boot from USB floppy and use freedos to do that bios upgrade, by the way. No icky internal floppy drive cable, and no icky MS DOS license, thank you!


It's quite snappy, though it takes a few minutes to boot. I'd like to be able to put it to sleep. I think I have the right hardware/kernel (ACPI) support, but when I suspend it using /proc incantations, it awakens immediately.

The graphics card seems to work well; it certainly passes the tuxracer test ;-). I haven't played with the "DVD playback support".

ATI actively assists qualified 3rd party Linux developers writing software for the majority of ATI products by providing them with development kits and information.
ATI Linux/XFree86

That's certainly a nice relief from the NVidia license-related hassles. I wonder how they compare on features.

I'm using an 80GB disk that I couldn't pass up at $30 after rebates a couple months ago; that's overkill, and I also put a 9GB disk from a dead laptop in there with the intention of using that instead, but hdparm shows 53MB/sec for the big disk versus 13MB/sec for the little disk; plus, the big one is quieter. What's a good CPU benchmark, btw? I see 3448.83 bogomips.

I haven't checked USB 2.0 support (cf what's the deal with USB?).

lspci output:

Disk-related dmesg output:

VP_IDE: chipset revision 6
VP_IDE: not 100% native mode: will probe irqs later
VP_IDE: VIA vt8237 (rev 00) IDE UDMA133 controller on pci0000:00:0f.0
    ide0: BM-DMA at 0xd000-0xd007, BIOS settings: hda:DMA, hdb:DMA
    ide1: BM-DMA at 0xd008-0xd00f, BIOS settings: hdc:DMA, hdd:pio
hda: WDC WD800JB-00JJA0, ATA DISK drive
hdb: IBM-DARA-209000, ATA DISK drive
Using anticipatory io scheduler
ide0 at 0x1f0-0x1f7,0x3f6 on irq 14
hda: max request size: 128KiB
hda: 156301488 sectors (80026 MB) w/8192KiB Cache, CHS=65535/16/63, UDMA(100)
 /dev/ide/host0/bus0/target0/lun0: p1 p2 p3
hdb: max request size: 128KiB
hdb: 17660160 sectors (9042 MB) w/418KiB Cache, CHS=17520/16/63
 /dev/ide/host0/bus0/target1/lun0: p1 p2 p3 p4
ide1 at 0x170-0x177,0x376 on irq 15

ssh key fingerprint:

1024 b8:19:da:a8:7d:02:f7:6c:d5:e3:24:b3:b9:35:33:70 /etc/ssh/

See also: notes from Sat, 29 Jan 2005 02:50:29 +0000


Photos were taken with our current FilmKiller, an HP PhotoSmart 720. Transferring them to the PC exposed a bug in Ubuntu... the thing went into a loop mounting the flash disk, offering to import the images into gthumb, unmounting it, and repeating. I eventually found the "automatically run gthumb when you find images" box and turned it off. Then I just copied the .jpg files.

I used the gThumb Image Viewer to make thumbnails and navigational structure, then edited the page with OpenOffice writer; it's pretty good for ImmersiveHypertextEditing; you can follow links while you're editing. But somehow the alignment of the decorative images got messed up, and I resorted to tidy and a text editor to clean up the mess.

Dan and Brennan, February 2005
$Revision: 1.5 $ of $Date: 2005/07/09 04:26:21 $