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Been Busy

I finally got all of the stuff I needed to build a new box and have been assembling it. I wanted to buy things locally and have someone locally put it together, but no one stocks anything that isn’t ‘vanilla’, and acceptable to the masses.

I’ll throw in links to the major pieces at Newegg.com, but I didn’t buy everything there, as they weren’t carrying some things when I decided to buy them, but are now.

I am using this power supply and case because they had a good price when purchased together.

Then I went with this ASRock motherboard because it had SATA III, USB 3.0, and support for an AMD APU processor. The APU has both a CPU and GPU on the chip which means I didn’t need to buy a graphics card. Then I added 8 Gigs of RAM to support the quad core processor.

I added two WD 1 Terabyte hard drives and a Blu-ray DVD drive/burner.

I broke down and bought a new Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse for this box because once you discover the joy of not having to deal with the tethers, especially on the mouse, you will never go back.

The most difficult thing to locate was the monitor. I went all over locally trying to find one, but no one had one with an HDMI interface and built in speakers. I don’t want to give up desk space to separate speakers. I even looked for a 22-inch HDTV, but at that size they are all 720P screens, and I wanted the 1080P, and they don’t have an HDMI interface.

I have everything in the case and just have to adjust some cable placements before ‘smoke testing’, i.e. add power and see if it burns up. This is the fun part where you find out if the cables were properly labeled and if the switches work.

The guys who designed the manual for the motherboard need a new printer because the font on the connections diagram is so large I can almost read it without a magnifying glass. I feel certain they can find a smaller font to really make it a challenge.

All of the advertising for these parts is targeted towards gamers and over-clocking. I’m just looking for the most current technology, so I don’t have to buy anything for years, and can still use common peripherals.

I’m planning on putting Win 7 Pro on one drive and Linux on the other, but that can change.

11 comments

1 Steve Bates { 06.24.12 at 8:09 am }

I hope cordless mice have improved in reliability, and built-in speakers in audio quality, since my encounters with them a few years ago. My M$ cordless mouse burned through batteries so fast that I finally gave up and went back on the wire. Stella has built-in speakers in her monitor; they’re dog-awful, but all of Stella’s artistic talents are with brush, pen and glue, so they sound just fine to her. 🙂

2 Bryan { 06.24.12 at 9:18 am }

I’ve been putting up with the speakers in this laptop for a while, so anything will be an improvement. None of the speakers I would buy would be very good, because everything sound tinny after listening to my Bose 901s for years. I’m just looking to reduce the clutter on the desk.

If I really was looking for quality, I would have bought some good earphones, because the only way to get that quality in a speaker is to buy something that would take up my entire desktop.

On the battery thing, I use rechargeables, and they go for months in the mouse. Not having to worry about a cat grabbing the wire while I’m working is worth the expense.

3 Steve Bates { 06.24.12 at 10:51 am }

Batteries went for weeks in my mouse, sometimes as little as two weeks. The only cat permitted on my table (Stella has different rules for hers) is Esther, who politely tiptoes across whatever pile of paper is in front of the UPSs and waits, again politely, to be scratched. Lily… well, I’ve run her off so many times that she’s sure I’m the axe murderer.

Headphones are my current solution. In a two-person office, it isn’t always civil to play movies or audio tracks while the other occupant is trying to concentrate on work. I have a tolerable pair of Inland speakers, cheap but not anywhere nearly as tinny as the speakers in Stella’s otherwise quite satisfactory ViewSonic display. Life is too short to listen to wretchedly distorted music.

4 Bryan { 06.24.12 at 11:18 am }

The battery in my Logitech mouse lasts for months, so things have gotten better on that front.

My cats used to attack from below and I wasn’t always aware one of them was there before the attack. They don’t like the keyboard shelf as it slides, so their footing isn’t very stable, but they are big enough to grab the wire and pull the mouse or keyboard off the shelf.

Good earphones are much better than anything sold for a computer. I don’t listen to music on the computer, so high fidelity isn’t a consideration.

5 Badtux { 06.24.12 at 10:55 pm }

On the batteries front, my Logitech solar-powered keyboards are still doing just fine — no batteries required, just set the one that lives in my keyboard tray under a lamp overnight when I’m not using it (not enough light on my keyboard tray). My Logitech Darkfield mice go about three months between battery changes. On the Apple front I use the Apple wireless Bluetooth keyboard and MagicPad, but that only works for Apple stuff (the pad works like the multi-touch trackpad on the Macbook, but the multi-touch wizardry of course doesn’t work under Windows or Linux). These do, alas, eat batteries… but at least they’ll take the rechargeable batteries.

The problem with components nowadays is that you basically have generic cr*p, gamer stuff, and server stuff… and the server stuff is *not* cheap. The Xeon motherboard that I used for my ESXi servers is the cheapest server-quality motherboard I could find, a Supermicro, but the bloody thing cost $600 just for the motherboard without processors and memory (and then the Xeon processors and the ECC memory were pretty pricy too). My Linux server at home has a gamer board in it because server quality hardware is just too expensive for what I need while the generic stuff is just garbage. The gamer board makers tout the quality of their power supplies / capacitors / and so forth, “so that we’re more stable when overclocked than the other guys!”, but that same stuff also makes them more stable when *not* overclocked. So it goes…

– Badtux the Geeky Penguin

6 hipparchia { 06.25.12 at 12:13 am }

cordless mice have gotten MUCH better on battery usage, and probably only very recently.

i put up with replacing 2 aa [nonrechargeable] batteries every couple of weeks for years simply because i hated the wires so much. then i discovered my present logitech mouse a couple of years ago, in which one aa battery lasts 4-6 months. i thought this was so wonderful that i went out and bought a second one for my work computer.

i haven’t yet gone so far as to get a wireless keyboard, but i sooooo want one.

7 Bryan { 06.25.12 at 5:49 pm }

The battery that came with the mouse for my laptop didn’t last more than a month or so, but I just put in the second battery that I bought for it. That means that I’ve used only two batteries in 10 months, and the second was in there for most of that time. I can live with that. The keyboard will use more, but it’s worth it not to have to crawl around to the back of the computer because a plug was pulled out by cat or cats unknown.

That’s about what I found out, Badtux, especially looking at machines that were already assembled. I don’t do multimedia, I do text and data base stuff. I watch an occasional video, but I don’t create or edit them. I spent money on the two Black labels because drive speed is more important than CPU when you are cleaning up a data base. If I was still heavily involved, I would have bought solid state drives, but the WD Blacks are ‘good enough’. I bought the RAM at the speed the CPU specified. Most people buy slower RAM because it’s cheaper, and if there are problems I will back off to the 1600, but I like to follow the recommendations of the manufacturer whenever I can.

I put of a picture of the innards after I confirm that it is running properly. Lots of open space with no cards on the motherboard.

8 Badtux { 06.28.12 at 3:13 am }

I wouldn’t buy an already-assembled machine, well, other than a laptop where you don’t have a choice. It’s all bargain basement junk if it’s built with consumer quality parts, or if it’s a gamer machine it’s got good parts but way higher spec video card and etc. than I need (and Linux support for that bleeding edge stuff is always iffy).

I don’t recall the exact specs of my last build because it’s a Nehalem 1366 system with an Intel gamer motherboard (as in, made by Intel) but I reused a few parts from my previous build (not many though — I think the nVidia graphics card was all that carried over, even the DVD-RW drive changed because the old one was IDE while the new motherboards only have SATA ports). The Intel Core I7-950 CPU that I used was at the time a favorite of gamers for overclocking. I figured if they overclocked it and still managed to play games with some degree of stability, it’d be fine non-overclocked for me. And yep, it is. I also had to get a new case because they changed the bloody form factors again… and had to get a new power supply because they changed the power supply specs again… and …. sigh. You know how it goes ;). But that was several years ago. I’ve seen the benchmarking on the new Sandy Bridge processors, heck I have one on my desk at the office doing product development for a Sandy Bridge based hardware product, and yes it’s faster than snot, roughly four times faster on our workloads than the Nehalems were due to the faster processor interconnects and having more cores on a die at a given price-point (which we *can* make use of in our product, for reasons I won’t go into because they’re interesting historically and you could figure it out by reading about our past products and figuring out what we had to do to modify that code base to be our current products but frankly would bore the snot out of anybody who’s not a data storage geek), but frankly my system at home is already way overkill for what I use it for. As is your case, I’m far more I/O constrained than CPU constrained, I’m running 7200 RPM SATA drives too.

BTW, don’t buy the hype on the solid state drives. They’re great for random I/O database type loads, but trying to do video streaming to them from a couple dozen cameras… nuh-uh, no way, no how. Half the speed of a 7200 RPM SATA drive, if you’re lucky, due to the way that they handle I/O’s internally and the way OS’s handle metadata meaning that you end up hung on metadata writes all over the place while the solid state drive is bogged down finding places to put video data. Great for the metadata volume of a ZFS data pool though, which is primarily a random read / write RDMS-like pattern that thrashes rotational storage to heck and back, makes deduplication actually feasible though still ridiculously expensive computationally.

Hmm, and now I’m sensing what my next purchases are going to be, now that I’ve played with ZFS quite a bit in a test environment and am about to deploy it in production (albeit not in a critical path… I’m not *that* silly).

9 Bryan { 06.28.12 at 8:44 pm }

Most of the random stuff is minimized by sorting based on customer use pattern, as a lot of it is for batch processing. The daily stuff does involve random access, but the volume isn’t very high, and speed in more important for the batch processes to keep up with the output devices that work flawlessly when the flow is maintained, but crash in an expensive and spectacular fashion if there are pauses – they are designed to run, not stop and start.

The only real justification for the Blu-ray is that some of the data sources are moving to that form as they are approaching the capacity of a standard DVD with their product. I don’t need more that 5-10% of what they ship, but they dump things to disk, they won’t process it, and they are sole sources for the data. The licenses for this stuff is measured in thousands of dollars while the cost is minimal, but they are sole sources, so my clients pay.

I’ve been lucky on the data collection side, providing hardware and software for experiments that sample at intervals measured in seconds or minutes. Since they were all concerned with changes over time, they were extremely simple, and straight-forward, with no need to get fancy. Generally flat file capture to feed into very involved analysis software that wasn’t part of my contract.

Video capture is obviously a more complex problem requiring a lot more resources and a much better user interface than dealing with researchers.

I looked at the solid state drives, but gave them a pass. I couldn’t justify the expense for a tower installation. They would provide a more crash-proof environment for a laptop, but in my environment they didn’t make sense.

Tomorrow the monitor is supposed to finally show up, so I can actually find out if I have a computer or a large black brick on the work bench.

10 Badtux { 06.29.12 at 2:36 am }

It’s not just video streaming, Bryan. It’s video *databasing*, everything has to be stashed in a way so that if a burglar breaks in, we can go thru the UI and go back in time, find out when exactly he broke in, and switch to another camera view and get the license plate of his car. I’m doing the storage back end for all that, so all I’m seeing is multiple incoming streams of bytes that are interspersed with metadata updates to random areas. The striping and caching we do to keep up with this data is pretty awe-inspiring, and none of it would work properly with solid state storage because the metadata updates get jammed up by the serial streams. So we will use a solid state disk at the boot drive for reliability, but all the data drives are spinners.

The hilarious thing is all the folks who say, “what, you’re using SATA drives and not SAS drives? Why?!” Well, 3TB SATA drives will stream sequential data faster than any SAS drive on the planet, period, because data density is no higher on SAS drives but they’re spinning the platter faster — meaning less data on any given track, meaning that data that’ll stream to one track on the SATA drive requires a drive head reposition to stream to the SAS drive, which is a tiny but still statistically significant hiccup. Not to mention that they don’t hold as much data in the first place, important when you’re talking about massive amounts of video data. When I got a new boss he was astounded to learn this fact about SATA drives being faster for streaming video, because he came from a database-oriented environment where SAS was faster. But video ain’t Kansas, Toto ;).

11 Bryan { 06.29.12 at 4:59 pm }

Yeah, Badtux, I understand that you are storing the streams with the necessary info to access them at will, rather than the old VHS system of hoping someone wrote something to identify it on the tape label, and the required tape hadn’t been reused accidentally. In ancient times I spent a summer working for ADT doing bank security installations and repairs. The systems were marginally better than nothing, and occasionally great if you got really lucky. Half the time is was like a Pink Panther movie, with the gloved hand about to grab the diamonds, and then the camera switched and you were looking down the hall to bathroom.

Lots of coding to storing the parallel feeds involved so you can find what you need without reviewing hours of video. Interesting problem in data base design and implementation.

OK, I would have guessed that SAS was faster, but it makes sense that head moves really slow down the processing. Hell, I remember when you could hear the old ‘full size’ hard drive stepper motors move to a new track and watched processes stall because the buffer wasn’t big enough to cover the interruption in sequential jobs. That was back in the days when a parallel line printer could keep up with a computer on output. Things have gotten a whole lot better on that front.

This box should be ‘good enough’ for some time to come.