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12/26/2005 Archived Entry: "new computer!"

You might have noticed that we've been enjoying an extended holiday: beginning with Winter Solstice (Dec. 21), continuing through Gravmas (a.k.a. Newtonmas -- Sir Isaac Newton's birthday, Dec. 25) and on to Boxing Day (Dec. 26). No travel, just stay-at-home revelry.

Over the weekend I upgraded my computer. (Skip the rest if computer tech bores you.)

The old 400 MHz Pentium II was still working ok, but it wasn't fast enough to support a DVD drive, and I want to switch to DVD-Rs for backup. Plus, some applications were a bit slow. (I've seen this phenomenon since the days of the first 286 PCs: programmers write for their computer, which is usually state-of-the-art. If it's fast enough on their machine, they don't devote any effort to making it faster. You can see this same phenomenon on web pages: I can tell at first glance which web programmers have never used a dial-up Internet connection.)

My requirements are now sufficiently peculiar, that I decided to build this machine from scratch. The most difficult is that I still need to install one legacy ISA card...but I need at least a 900 MHz processor to support DVD writing. After a fair bit of research I found that the fastest motherboards that still supported ISA were AMD-processor motherboards from a few years ago, good for up to a 1.4 GHz Athlon. Pentium motherboards with ISA slots seemed to top out at 1 GHz. Fine with me; I prefer AMD anyway.

So for the last few months I've been collecting parts. For the "obsolete" motherboard and CPU I turned to eBay...and I bought a few spares for each, since I may need to keep this computer going for several years. I also bought more RAM, new PCI peripheral cards to replace my other ISA cards, and a case big enough to hold multiple hard drives and three 5.25-inch drives (CD-R, DVD-R, and 5.25" floppy -- I said I had peculiar requirements).

Normally I upgrade computers in the week between Christmas and New Year's. This is a quiet work period for me, so I can afford to be without a computer for a few days if there is a problem. As it happens, I started on Dec. 24th...and finished the same day. I retired my old 4 GB Windows C: drive, moved my 20 GB Linux D: drive (/dev/hdb to Linux users) into the new box, and installed a new 80 GB C: drive. Since my old Linux distribution is configured to run from /dev/hdb, this didn't require any software changes.

I'm happy to report that Xandros Linux 2.0 detected my new hardware and reconfigured itself automatically. (I did have to boot once into "Safe Video Mode" for it to change to the new video card.) The one exception is the new PCI serial/parallel card, which replaces my old ISA card for COM3, COM4, and LPT2. (More peculiar requirements.) The new card requires a driver, and that driver is clearly not included with Xandros.

To complete the splurge I installed 768 MB of RAM instead of my old 192 MB. This seems to have been a lucky guess: Xandros reports that typically less than 600 MB of RAM is being used, and no swap space.

On my spacious new hard drive I have installed Xandros 3.0, to which I may slowly migrate over the next year. I've left a 10GB "temp" partition for DVD writing -- I've learned that some Linux backup utilities need a working space twice the size of the backup medium, and a DVD-R holds 4.7 GB.

And I've created a large partition on which I intend to archive all of the legacy software I have sitting around on floppy disks. Floppy disks eventually go bad. So do hard drives, and CD-Rs, but once I have copied all those floppies onto a hard drive I can make yearly backups onto DVD-R. I can even install a second hard drive for redundant backup.

The remaining challenge is archiving my old 8" floppy disks. Did I mention peculiar requirements?


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