Like A Headless Server

My Apple TV is dying. It’s the beautiful, sleek first generation model that worked really well within the best girlfriend ever’s living room design (and not like these pokey, hockey puck resembling newer ATVs), but it’s now 6 years old, and it makes funny noises at times, has the odd flicker and, like a geriatric projectionist gets rather hot and refuses to play the chosen film until you feed him Werther’s Echte or it’s Carry On movies all the way. Last night it refused to play ‘Castle’. The best girlfriend ever almost had a heart attack. So I started to research alternatives. It needed to be cheap and the old IBM ThinkCentre I had lying around was just what I needed, but its motherboard threw so many BSODs that even an XP install was torture. So a new machine it had to be. But within reason please, as ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’ (Mrs Cosmopolite, Nr 3 Quirm Street). A small form factor would be nice, so mini – ITX was the motherboard size of choice. After looking around for a bit, I found this:
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This is the charmingly named Gigabyte GA-E350N WIN8, a 17x17cm teeny weeny little powerhouse with some interesting properties like an old PCI slot and serial port, so clearly made for people  who still have some legacy hardware lying around. Just like yours truly. It comes with a nice AMD E350 dual core CPU, so no need to buy a new one. It has decent Radeon onboard graphics, but this being for Castle – serving purposes it’s not really that important.  Admittingly, it’s not the quickest chip in town, but Castle is not the hippest show in town either.  Now all I needed was a nice case. There is still a Macintosh SE/30 lying around in the garage that was ruined by corrosion on its motherboard, but that’s going to take a few weeks to get ready, and time was of the essence, because you never know how long the AppleTV will be working. So an alternative case had to be found. After some deliberation, the postman delivered this: The snappily titled Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced USB 3.0 Mini ITX Case. It is rather beautiful. And it fits so much stuff! And the best thing: you don’t have to buy a new PSU, but can just use your old ATX PSU. Genius! So, after unpacking, I was looking at this:

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Mmh. It looks nice and clean. See whether I can get this working.

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Ok, so that’s how you fit in the hard disks. I wonder if I can get a few more in there…

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Motherboards fits…

It's a bit like a weird game of Jenga

It’s a bit like a weird game of Jenga

Three! That will fit a lot of Castle

Three Terabyte,  That will fit a lot of Castle

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So you slide your old PSU in there from above…

Something is happening!

Something is happening!

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It is accomplished!

So, software. Well, I thought about Debian and Open Media Vault, but both were being bitchy about my ancient external USB DVD-Rom and refused to install (and were bitching about Grub2), so in the end it was an old legit XP OEM disc that I had lying around. Which is fine with me, because it runs Itunes and can now serve the soon to arrive hockey-puckish AppleTVwhatevergenerationtheyareatnow. And it stores all the action shots of my mouse and bird cams. And it serves music to the various Revos that are strewn around the house. All that for less than a 100 quid.

It’s good to be a Nerd.

Moving from the Mac to Ubuntu?

It’s time that we had another geekish post, as there has been far too much footy and other stuff lately So today we will focus on the age old lament of people switching to Linux because they fear Apple’s hardware and software lock in. THis time it’s’s Dan Gillmor to make the big jump and I completely understand where he’s coming from. I’ve done it numerous times: after I sold/broke a Mac I swore solemnly to embrace Open Source and would end up buying some laptop and install Ubuntu/Suse/Mandriva/Debian/Red Hat on it, just to pine for the functionality of ease of OS X on a MacBook and end up byuying one 6 months later anyway.

It’s perfectly ok to be suspicious of Apple’s control freakery, but in the end their stuff works. No missing drivers, no blue screen of death, no Kernel upgrades that go awry, no hardware problems. I have Ubuntu Karmic installed on my Desktop where it works just beautifully, but just because I continue working under the hood to MAKE it work.

Not so my MacBook (s). Since my first Powerbook 150 back in 1993 they have performed dutifully from day one, survived numerous drops and my current one dutifully updates my Ipad (which I now carry around with me instead).

So if Simon wants to go down the exciting road of Linux on the Laptop, I wish him luck. Being old and lazy now, I prefer to use what works.

P.S. Looks like Ubuntu isn’t working on his new Levono.

Running Ubuntu on mediocre Hardware

As my lifestyle is rather mobile at present, my main computing tasks are being performed by my Macbook, but recently I inherited an old beige Box from work together with a nifty flat screen LCD monitor that has a nice small footprint. so before throwing it away, I thought I give it a try. After cleaning it and having a rummage around it turns out to be a ca 6 year old KM2M Combo-L Motherboard from MSI, powered by a 1.4 ghz AMD Duron. I upgraded it to 1.2 GB ram and added an oldish Geforce FX 5700 that I still carried around with me, but still, for 2008 the whhole thing is a bit of a stinker.

Next my thoughts turned to the Operating System: it was supposed to have a dual role, on the one hand enabling me to finally finish Morrowind, so I bought the last legit copy of Windows XP my local mum and pop retailer had left (“funny that”, he said. “We have never sold so many copies of XP as in the last 6 months.”) and prepared the one half of the harddisk to be my gaming ‘rig’. Albeit a rather ancient one, but for Morrowind it works beautifully, and as its completely off the net with all connections disabled, it’s probably the safest XP machine in the neighbourhood. But it also should be hooked up to net, print and do some decent wordprocessing  so a more secure option was necessary.

“Use what you know”, so a Debian derivate it needed to be. I previously ran Ubuntu on my last ‘real’ gaming rig, but that was an enormous, up to date thing with quad core cpu and a bloody expensive new GPU, so I was hesitant to try it on this machine with specs from 2003. Nevertheless I am happy to say that Hardy Heron is performing well. Better than I thought, actually.

To check how the dear old Duron was coping with an OS from 2008 and the new breed of ajaxified websites with their rich content and online streaming I had three desktop windows open: Window one ran the resource hogging Open Office,  window 2 had Evolution in all its glory, while Window 3 was filled with Firefox running the BBC’s iplayer, showing me the installment of that weird archaeology show ‘Bonekickers’. The 5 year old beige box performed absolutely flawless. No hickup with the playback on the iplayer, even though the machine connected to the internet via a Asus usb plug-in wifi thingie (that was instantly picked up by Ubuntu and hooked up without any problems to my WPA-2 network). LastFM is playing nicely, printing works out of the box, and my non DRM’d songs on my itunes collection are picked up as well.

I would put the value of this machine at, what, 20? 30? pounds?

Don’t fall for the hype of always buying the latest multicore machines. The only reason I would ever buy a new, ‘pushing the envelope’, PC again is if I wanted to play the latest games on Vista. But as I have a Playstation3 and would rather eat my coffeecup before running Vista I’ll stay with my beige box for now.