Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Long Damn Day... or two really

I just finished my third windows rebuild in 36 hours, including two phonecalls to Microsquish to activate the evil Vista, and god knows how much time spent reinstalling applications and drivers; followed by reboot after reboot.

The end result of this, is that the kids computer and my game/media machine are now both fully re-built; and I now have a third computer built from the spare parts of the other two (and some extras I had lying around).

I'd mentioned the kids mobo dying before; but not much about my machine. The kids computer (actually I just use that as a shorthand; because its the living room PC that we all use, and which also streams media to the home theater) fried it's motherboard last week, and I had to order a new one.

Well, I was hunting around for a new motherboard, and I found a spectacular deal on a new mobo and processor combo; a 2.5ghz Athlon 64 x2, and very decent ASUS motherboard; for just $40 more than a new motherboard for the Pentium D would have been alone.

Given this deal, I was left with a spare processor, and a semi-dead motherboard (the motherboard works, but the SATA controller crapped out) ; and I was wondering about what I might want to do with them.

As I wrote last week, I like having spare PCs around, in case something blows up; or for use as a testing box, or random server of some kind. Even if I don't need them for some thing or another, I'll frequently give them as gifts to family members, or loaners to friends etc...

I've also mentioned in the past that the one thing I really didn't like about my media/gaming rig was the case. Basically, my primary desktop was driving me crazy with the noise.

I have a Core 2 quad 6600 with a bigass coolermaster heat sink, a GeForce 8600GTS, two dvd burners, and two 7200 rpm hard drives in there... all in a crappy factory case, with the stock cheap bushing fans, and noisy and underpowered 450 watt OEM power supply. The whole chassis is perforated like a collander, and with all those drives and fans in there... oy.

Remember now, this machine is in my bedroom, and runs overnight movie, video, and music downloads and conversions. I sleep with a little vornado style fan on all night; and there were times when the PC fan and hard drive noise was audible over the actual fan.

So, with the goal being quiet performance, I grabbed a CoolerMaster Cosmos noise reducing case, a Thermaltake Toughpower PSU (modular, silent, high efficiency power supply); and an Asus mobo with a heat pipe, and intelligent fan control for all 8 of the fans in the chassis.

I also moved all my digital media onto my NAS setup (more on that on a later post), took the two 500gig Barracudas out of the box (put them in the NAS box in fact), and put a 250gig Barracuda I had lying around back in; cloning my system partition onto it with my drive imaging software.

I'm very pleased with the results. Unless I'm reading a CD/DVD at high speed, you can't hear anything from the system at all in normal usage. Even overclocked, running BioShock with everything turned all the way up; the maximum fan noise is still less than the minimum fan noise from the previous case and mobo combo.

This left me with the old motherboard and case from my gaming box, a 2.4ghz Pentium D, 2 gigs of spare RAM, a GeForce 8500GT-256, and 2x 160gb hard drives; all of which I had lying around. So now I've got a spare system, dual booting Kubuntu and XP "just in case".

The total cost for the case, power supply, two motherboards, and a processor, was right around $500 (that doesn't include the spare ram, hard drives, or video card I had lying around).

Considering I ended up with a spare PC out of the deal; as well as meeting my goal of silent performance, and doubling ther performance of the living room PC.... Well, Id say we got our moneys worth.

Now that left the two upgraded systems that had existing data on them to deal with. Data which we would prefer not to lose.

Any time you move an existing windows install onto another motherboard... bad things can happen. Sometimes it works great, sometimes it doesn't work at all... in both of these cases the situation ended up somewhere in between. With all the potential problems though, I decided to do a clean system rebuild for each; which can take a while.

First, I used my NAS and external HDD drives, and the aforementioned backup and imaging software (I use Acronis) to back everything up; and then I started rebuilding.

The physical teardown and rebuild took a few hours. Actually a bit longer than I expected; mostly because the old factory chassis on my gaming/media box was very irritating. I was planning on re-using everything from the computer except the case, mobo, and PSU; so I couldn't just pop out the hard drives and processor and start over.

The kids box was actually surprisingly easy. The mobo came right out, the new mobo and proc went in; and the rest of the components popped onto the mobo just fine.

Finally it was software time.

All told, it took about 10 hours on the big box, and about 6 on the kids box; what with all the backups, updates, app installs etc...

And of course, I had a work day in the middle there.

While I was waiting for various backups to run, and apps to install, I made some Cat5e patch cables (relating to a project I'm going to write about tomorrow); which is always "great fun". My hands and fingers feel just great now.

So, anyway, I'm pretty brain dead at the moment; and I didn't finish the two big posts I was meaning to get done; but both boxes are finished and working and clean, and both boxes now have clean baseline images on the NAS.

Oh and I did a semi-inventory on spares. I already had bunch of spares; but including the full spare box I built; I now have a total of three spare motherboards (one of which is semi fried. The SATA controller is dead), three spare cases, a spare Pentium D processor and a spare Athlon 64+, I think 3 gigs of spare RAM, and god knows how many spare hard drives...

Next time a computer dies like the kids did, I can slot in the spare PC; and then probably just rebuild another one from leftover parts... which is kinda the point.