the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Tag Archives: byopc

new dell pc

Recently I searched this website for information about my Windows desktop only to find BYOPC 2016 – is that computer really five years old? Indeed it is, so with little hesitation I set out to find a replacement. Why? Foremost, I believe in a four (4) year replacement cycle for desktop computers. Remember, there’s no badge of honor earned from your janky old computer. Performance, security, safety, peace of mind and your itjerk’s respect all factor in. Second, the computer is not Windows 11 compatible, which as an IT professional will be important for me. Finally, it was an inexpensive build, on the noisy side (cheap case) and low on storage (128GB boot drive). Yet as cheap as it was, it served me well, but now it’s time to move on!

As my primary desktop, it was quite easy for me to arrive at the decision to buy a new computer. Building computers is fun, but good, workable options are just inexpensive. Don’t forget, PC makers spend a lot of time designing well-engineered systems; that’s part of what we pay for. I don’t game, so I have little need for power or anything but a standard configuration, including one that is Windows 11 ready. Now, I haven’t had a Dell computer since the old Dimension C521 in 2007, but my recent experiences with my daughter’s Latitude 3190s (despite initial problems) brought me around again.

A quick trip to Dell.com yielded a Vostro 3681 in a small form-factor case, with 8GB RAM, 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive and an Intel 10th Gen i5-10400 processor(6-Core, 12M Cache, 2.9GHz to 4.3GHz) processor, all for $499 (after a $50 coupon code). The HDMI port fits well with my KVM, and it has an extra bay for a spare hard drive. Pandemic-driven built-in bluetooth and wifi card in most desktops (here via a second M2 slot) is handy as well. Plus it’s kinda cute, with that red front bezel.

It arrived quickly (Sat->Wed), and within no time I had an extra 8GB RAM installed, as well as the 128GB drive from my old computer. I signed in with my Microsoft account, and OneDrive did a pretty good job of getting everything in place. I did have to ensure that my Documents and Pictures folders did not connect to OneDrive, as I don’t want them to sync nor be in the Cloud. The perfunctory Windows (shipped with 20H2) and Microsoft Store updates were next, followed by Dell’s System Update. I had previously made a list of the applications I needed, so it was off to the races to download and install them. One thing I realized is that my old Quicken 2007 software is a real relic; getting that now requires an annual subscription, so I’m glad I still had the CD! Once I copied the data from my old drive over, I took it out and plugged in a 1TB “scratch disk” from the old computer that I have a bunch of misc files on. It’s an old SATA drive, so I may replace it with a SSD to keep the “silence” the Vostro 3681 provides.

Update: That 1TB “scratch disk” was actually a 500GB drive, and I did replace it with a 512GB SSD.

Nota Bene: Before you wipe clean your old computer, be sure to give the new computer a run through of your most important tasks. For instance, opening my book InDesign and printing a PDF copy yielded a couple missing fonts (which I had) and a PDF preset (which luckily I found). In other words, don’t be in a hurry to throw out the old!

All in all, it’s a silent, snappy little computer that more than provides for what I need in a desktop environment. Good on you Dell.

One the web:
Dell Vostro

clean install mania

onedesktop.png
New hardware assembled in no time, and yes it’s a perfect match (well, except I need to rob a mounting bracket and four-pin fan (mATX) from the old machine). For the money, I’ve done well, and I hope it lasts as long as the previous.

Clean install of Ubuntu 18.04LTS was fine, except first time I must have miss-typed my password because I couldn’t login. Second time I got it right, but also decided to do a “minimal install” with full disk encryption. The former, because, the latter also because, but I will say there are potential pitfalls when rebooting because you must type the password to mount the drive.

I installed a whole lot of apps (Audex too), LAMP server with two websites (one requiring php5.x from here), two music streaming servers, an openvpn server, and a whole lot more. Most things were easy, most things didn’t require magic or luck, and it’s liberating in a way to leave things behind, and also to see how things work on a very clean system.

The big takeaways are this: document, document, document what you’ve done. Whether in a blog (like this), using screenshots, sending yourself email, referring to bash_history files, or whatever, if you did something once, you may have to do it again, so tuck it away where you can find it. As we all know, IT professionals are just very good at google searches; but they’re not always that efficient, and after a while the mania sets in:

In my drive for perfection, I did f&ck things up by deleting a directory (or more) in /var/. Punch drunk on the keyboard? Three hours of sleep? I certainly wasn’t thinking straight! Anyway, very luck to recover, as I was almost to the point where I needed to redo the entire clean install again!

So it’s all good, all systems go. Yet I still haven’t migrated any user data (other than my music library, and websites), not even any bookmarks. Yet.

byopc 2016, windows edition

I have an upcoming project, formatting the next edition of my progressive rock guide, that requires the use of InDesign. My old Dell PC died earlier this year, and as a stop gap I took the guts of this computer and put it in a new box. I got a copy of Windows 10 Education from the day job, and while it was perfectly fine for doing what I normally do on Windows (finances, work email) at home, it was – no surprise – very sluggish with the Adobe Creative Cloud products. And since this job is a big deal, I didn’t want to be frustrated while working on it.

I looked into buying a Windows computer. The local Microcenter had a few decent Intel Core i5 models for under $500, but to be honest they all were cheap builds and according to reviews loaded with crapware. So I decided to look at parts to byopc. Starting with a 6th generation Skylake Intel Core i5 processor for $180, I started to work backward because although the book job will pay off, I’m cheap! The i3-6100 was less expensive at $109. The major difference between the i5 and the i3 is that the latter only has two actual cores; but for my needs, that’s acceptable, especially considering the savings. I picked up a Gigabyte GA-H110M-S2H motherboard for $29.99, which includes a $30 discount for the processor combo, and 8GB of DDR4 memory to match the board. I also decided to get a SSD drive, the Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 Series for $40, figuring that that SSD would more than make up in performance for the step down in processor.

The total cost for the parts was under $250, and it took about two hours to put the computer together, install Windows and download my applications again. I needed to update the Intel 530 display driver right away because the computer had some trouble coming out of sleep mode. But otherwise the computer is fast, has a fresh install of Windows 10 (Anniversary Edition is now updating), and the old hard drive is still there with all my old files. If I haven’t said this before, Windows 10 is one of Microsoft’s best versions yet. I thoroughly enjoy using it, especially on a quick, modern machine.

Now to get working on that book!

byopc 2014

Hard to believe, but it’s been about 5 years since I rebuilt my linux box. With the arrival of 14.04 LTS, I decided it was time. My computer was getting older, but really I had the itch to switch to 64 bit OS, which required a clean install, which made the decision to start anew quite easy…

Here’s my budget box, all purchased at my local Microcenter: Intel Pentium G3240, a low-watt, 2014Q1 processor at $55; Gigabyte B85M-D3H motherboard with Intel Haswell chipset at $80, one (1) Crucial Sport DDR3 8GB at $55, a SanDisk 128GB SSD at $70, and a new 1TB Western Digital Red drive for my media, at $70. Total $330. Rest of the parts were reused, everything installed like a charm, and I got a one-beep post on first boot. The computer is fast, silent, and running a 64 bit OS. Now I’m faced with the daunting task of reinstalling everything from scratch. How liberating!?

GA-B85M-D3H

Notes: I purchased a bracket for mounting the 2.5″ SSD into a 3.5″ bay, and will be off to get a new case fan because the new mobo needs one with four-pins, the old one has three… weird. Also, I’ll have to come up with a solution for optical spidf, because my old bracket has a three pin connector, while the mobo has a two pin header (the third is +5V to power the light). Of course, I could just get a 75K Coaxial Audio cable, but where’s the fun in that?

UPDATE: Found a pulse width modulation (PWM) case fan at Microcenter, $15. Had to modify my SPIDF optical backet by slicing the red power wire and connecting it to +5v pole on a molex adapter from the power supply. Then I had to install Gnome ALSA mixer in order to get simultaneous output from both my digital and analog outputs (doesn’t survive on reboot however).

IMG_20140525_145000.

FINAL WORD: It’s a great machine, well worth the $350 or so I invested into it. Fast, modern, and sporting a clean install from disk, performance is fantastic. Possible tweaks? 1) Bumping it up to 16GB RAM, and 2) adding a second WD Red disk to RAID1 my media drive.

byopc


Built a computer for work this morning: Intel Core i5 650 processor, Gigabyte GA-H55M-S2V motherboard, 4GB OCZ Gold D3-1333 RAM kit, WD 500GB "Black" hard drive and LG 22x DVD burner, all in a plain TX-388 case (shown on right), with an Antec 380W Earthwatts power supply. Win7 installed quickly, will dual boot with Ubuntu (or maybe Red Hat).

Hardware cost: $450.93 (excluding sales tax)

A word about the cost. I purchased everything at my local Microcenter, but first went to NewEgg to check prices. I saved about $50 by doing that. Kudos however to Microcenter for the low price on the i5 650 – $40 less than NewEgg. A license for Windows 7 will run me about $100, so be sure to factor that cost in when deciding to make or buy, as well as a few hours of your time to assemble the parts and install the operating system. Also, I did spend time deciding exactly which parts to buy, insuring they were compatible with each other, price checking for the best deal and finally, going to the store to buy everything.

That said, a similarly equipped machine from Dell or Lenovo would run $800 or $900. Sure, you get a warranty, but, as I told the associate at Microcenter, that's my job!

PS. Why doesn't someone sell an internal 2.25-Inch 8-Ohm 0.25W Speaker?