in Hardware

computer equipment upgrade time

It’s that time of year again when I start to think about what computer upgrades I might want to do. I’ve had some annoying things happen with my desktop PC recently and have considered either replacing it entirely, or implementing some much-needed upgrades.

My home desktop is a Pentium 4 3.2 GHz with 1 GB RAM; it’s about two years old now. It has a pair of SATA/300 drives connected to a Highpoint 1740 RAID controller. The main problem I have with the setup is that inexplicably, the CPU fan will start spinning up and down quickly when the CPU temperature gets to around 65°F. It’s very loud and very annoying. I’m not sure if I can replace the CPU fan, or what the problem is exactly, but the other PC I have (a Dell Dimension 2400 – Pentium 4 2.4 GHz) doesn’t make so much noise, ever.

The other major problem is that the Highpoint controller totally sucks. Not only is the performance abysmal, but Highpoint is slow to release drivers for new versions of Linux. This week they finally released drivers for Linux 2.6.23 and 2.6.24, but version 2.1 of the driver still doesn’t work with Fedora 7’s latest kernel, The symptoms are that the kernel will stall at random points in time, and then continue; consequently, the system will take half an hour to even boot and obviously is completely unusable.

I considered whether to just sell the machine and buy a new Dell desktop; I priced it out and a decent Dell will run me about $2K. On the other hand, I could just replace the Highpoint with a 3ware controller (lowest end one is around $350) and live with the insane fan noises for now. The system also really needs more memory, but I could probably pick that up for $50 or so.

For now, I might just replace the controller, and squeeze a few more years of life out of the PC.

I’ve also contemplated whether I should upgrade my tape backup system. Right now I have a DLT IV-based backup system with a 35/70 GB drive and 14 DLT tapes. Some of the tapes came used, and therefore have a lot of errors. If I were to replace them, they’d run about $40 apiece; I’d probably replace 6-8 to start. On the other hand, I could upgrade to a used LTO drive (either LTO-1 or LTO-2) for somewhere between $300-500; I’d still have to buy media, which is comparable to DLT media in price. Since I run two backups a week (Thursdays and Sundays) I’d probably get 8 LTO tapes to start, which gets me a month of rolling backups.

I know DLT is basically dead and end-of-life, but it’s served me well and so far I haven’t had any capacity issues on the tape. But I have had to partition my drives in odd ways in order to keep the sizes down, and if I were to upgrade to LTO, this would no longer be required.

Either way I’m trying to keep the capital outlay down as I’m no Crown Corporation!

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  1. Wouldn't it be less to buy a machine from a white box store? I priced it out and found that Dell was $600 more expensive apples to apples.

    What would be your dream system if money was no concern? And why not use online backups?

  2. I already have a white-box system. That's the one in which the Highpoint card sits.

    I'm tired of worrying about hardware compatibility issues and low-quality components. For example, when I bought this white-box PC two years ago, I had to immediately buy a PCI-Express video card for it because the on-board Intel video was crap.

    I just don't have time to research what motherboards are good, and what sockets they're using these days for the processors I want, etc. etc. Although I'm an IT guy, there are some things that I'd rather not leave to chance; I'm already going out on a limb to install "strange" operating systems like FreeBSD and don't need another variable in the equation.

    As for online backups, I just don't trust my confidential data to third-party companies. Also, doing a 100GB full backup every few weeks over an Internet connection doesn't seem like the most sensible or speedy thing to me.