Building a New PC

I am extremely familiar with the insides and mechanics behind build a PC from scratch.  I’ve put together several machines for both personal use and at (my old) work.  I also have done numerous upgrades to hard drives, RAM, GPUs, etc over the years.  I’ve wired up cases for better cooling and upgraded a PC so much that I rebuilt the original PC with all of it’s original parts.

I’ve never ever bought all the parts at once to put them together as a cohesive whole at the same time.

In the recent move, I’ve gained an office space.  Part of my desire for this office space is that it’s not going to be where the kids hang out to play on the computer.  Unfortunately, I can’t just stick them with one of my extra older PCs, it’ll never work out.  So I’m using the opportunity to build myself a new gaming rig.  Computer components have gotten so ridiculously confusing these days.  The last time I seriously build a PC it was simple.  If the processor speed was higher, it was better.  A 2 GHZ PC was pretty much always going to be better than a 1.8ghz PC.  Unless it’s a Celeron, then it just sucked no matter what.

Now it’s all Cores and i7s, and i3s and Phenom IIs and crazy numbers that are mostly just ePeen related.  Fortunately I am aware than GPU means more to a PC than CPU.  That’s why I started with GPU.  My old machine actually performs much better than I would ever expect considering it’s only Dual core and it’s a stock Dell machine with a new GPU and some RAM.  The key was, I picked out a good GPU when I bought it.

So I did some research on benchmarks and performance and came up with a Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 6850.  It’s not a top of the line card but it ranks very highly and costs about half as much as the cards ranking similarly.  I’m still being budget conscious with my choices and trying to get the best value I can.

I then did move on to processor.  As I said, modern processors confuse me, so I started off looking into the AMD chip recommended by Amazon to go with the GPU.  It was a place to start more than anything.  I’ve had a lot of AMD CPUs and always liked them.  They used to be the top dog but I was pretty sure Intel had come back to the lead.

Some Google searching suggested that it’s not real great unless it’s overclocked and I’m not really interested in trying to overclock anything.  It’s not that I don’t think I could do it, it’s more than I don’t want to have to buy another $150 processor when I fuck it up.  One thread I found on this chip had several recommendations for the Intel i5 2500 3.3Ghz.  It’s a Quad Core chip.   I did a bit more research and decided to go for this chip.  Mostly my research was into i5 vs i7, but this i5 is supposed to be pretty decent.  Besides, CPU is less important and I’m going to better value with a good punch.

On a side note, I also am hazy on the details but I also know that more cores doesn’t always mean better.  4 cores doesn’t make this a 12 Ghz processor, not every application uses multiple cores.  However I do a fair amount of Photo editing with Photoshop and I do a fair amount of editing with Adobe Premier, BOTH programs I know benefit from using multiple cores.

At this point I threw on a compatible fan nothing fancy, it was cheap and ranked 1st in fans on Amazon so I bought it.  I also threw on a 500W power supply to run it all.  I have a 500W power supply but it’s got some bad bearings in the fans and runs loud.  I could probably fix it but electricity scares me and I am pretty sure power supplies can be dangerous even when un plugged.

all that was left was to tie it together with a motherboard.  I picked up one from the list of recommended ones, it’s listed as Gigabyte Intel Z68 ATX DDR3 2133 LGA 1155 Motherboard GA-Z68A-D3H-B3 and is very Blue.

So, because it coordinates, I picked up 8 GB of Blue RAM with flashy cooling fins to go in it.

I didn’t need to get a case, I have a very large and nice case I bought last time I built a machine.  it is absolutely boring as hell in it’s designs but that was what I wanted, something that “wasn’t curvy and swoopy and neon and looked like a Riced up Honda PC”.

I’m not showing this thing off for looks.

I also already have some hard drives.  I have a 1 TB that I’ll probably stick in it out of my current machine.  It keeps disappearing from the OS, but I am 90% sure it’s because that stock Dell Power supply sucks and can’t handle running 3 hard drives and a GPU.

I also don’t need a Monitor.  I ordered a decently large LCD a week ago when I thought I was going to be running a different older machine in the office.

Anyway, I’m pretty stoked.  I also went in for the Amazon Prime trial so everything should be here by Thursday.

The First Full Day of Android…

I think I’ve finally got something I like after rearranging my little icons all over the place back and forth.  I still have not figured out how and if I can rename the single folder I’ve placed on the screen.  Thankfully the pre-installed apps, while not uninstallable, are removable from the main screens.

Of note on tests and discoveries.  At one point I accidentally triggered something called “Car Mode”.  I’ll have to look into how this happened and it took me a second to figure out how to get OUT of “Car Mode”.  This mode is a simplified interface with larger icons for things like voice dial and Maps.  Essentially the idea is you’d put the phone on some mount and interact with it minimally while driving.

As for battery life, I removed it from the charger this morning at around 6:30 when I woke up and plugged it in to charge off my laptop at around 2:30 PM when it alerted me that it was getting low.  Eight hours isn’t too bad though It looks like I’ll want to invest (eventually) in a second charger for the desk at work.

I’ve been getting notifications about tying together “friend accounts”.  Irritatingly it seems to have doubled up my twitter followers.  i wish it would just take the obvious ones and pair them for me.  Guess what phone, is the same person as 

The music player works so far.  I had little trouble with everything it played on random except for MP3s from an Allison Iraheta album I got from Amazon.  Everything else came from Amazon so I’m not real sure what the malfunction is.  I’ll probably just recopy these tracks and see if that fixes it.  The scrobbling works great.

I’m not real sure I like the built in FriendStream app.  It combines Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr together.  I like the Idea but I find it a bit cluttered and hard to follow.  Also I can’t open links directly in it without going to a secondary screen.  Finally I wish it would “remember” where I had left off instead of jumping to the newest items every time it comes up.  I’d rather scroll up into new stuff then scroll down and figure out where I left off.

Today’s installed apps… (I plan to get more detailed on a lot of these later) – In case i feel the need to shop while mobile.  not that i couldn’t go to the website.

Barcode Scanner – This seems useful and it seemed to sort of work on the only barcode I found handy on some granola bars, though it said they cost 40 bucks a box, which is WAAAAY off.

Google Earth – Mostly a novelty.

Google Sky Maps – Because stars are fun.

WCIA’s Mobile App – I saw a short clip promoting this on a local television channel and figured hey, sure.  I have not tested it a ton but if the School closings tab works it’s worth keeping around.  Too bad we’re probably beyond school closing season.

A Handful of Games – I’ll get into this aspect another time.

I also installed another NoAgenda app then proceeded to completely uninstall all three of the apps.  None of them do the most basic thing desired of playing the most recent episode of the show.  I also exported my iTunes Podcast list to the Podcatcher App I’[d installed yesterday.  Basically, now i can download the show (among others) direct to the phone, who needs some lame program.

HTC Inspire – Day Zero

After much debating on which Android phone would be the one i wanted for my carrier (AT&T), I had finally narrowed it down to the Captivate, which my brother has and enjoys, or the iPhone 3GS, which many people have.  Then it was announced that AT&T was getting a second Droid phone that was worthwhile (the first being the Captivate), with the HTC Inspire.  The price was right between my two dilemma price points and it was “newer” than the captivate, though i have not yet compared the actual specs.  Anyway, it was getting a lot of positive buzz up tot he launch so I went with it.  I went with it on it’s launch day, February 13th, 2011. 

Unlike any iPhone launch, there was not a line outside the store.  In fact no one seemed to be promoting the device device in the stores though I’m not sure any of the other customers I overheard were looking for this style of device to begin with.  The store where I had mine had the display model unceremoniously dumped on the counter near the other Droids since the display was only designed to hold 3 phones.   According to the store clerk i was the first person in the area to own one” which is probably true considering what a bustling center of technological activity Central Illinois is, This is ESPECIALLY true in the manufacturing town of Decatur, home of Mark Whitacre.

Anyway, after 3 hours in the phone store, i had my new phone?  Why 3 hours?  Well, that’s a longer story but basically, my wife and I were getting upgrades for her and the kids’ phones.  Also we made some adjustments to our minutes that I’ll probably touch on in a later blog post.

I’m not going to do a full review or anything yet, I’m sure I’ll get to that eventually.  I’m satisfied with it a lot at the moment.  We’ll leave it at that.

Zero day App Installs:

Angry Birds – i know nothing of this game other than it’s name, I figured I should see what the hype is all about.

Final Fantasy VII Soundboard – There didn’t seem to be a real Final Fantasy game available but I did find this nifty musical soundboard.

Foursquare – Because I really should get around to annoying my friends online with pointless “check ins” constantly.

Google Goggles – Take a picture, do a search, I tested it with a book cover with good results, I’ll try it out more and give more thoughts later. – i think i can play music off of this but mostly I want it to Scrobble what I am playing.  I’ll have to get back on how that works out.

NoAgenda App – I was hoping I could get the shows with this but it doesn’t seem to do that.  Mostly it’s just a sound board (In the Morning!).

Nook – So i can read my nookbooks when my Nook it’s available/convenient.

Pandora – Because I like music.

Portal Soundboard – The Cake is a LIE!

Posterous – So i can get my mobile photo blog back in gear.  Also my FoodBlog.

Remember the Milk – So I don’t forget…  something….. I can’t remember now….

Skype – because it seems useful but i never use it.

SSH Droid – Because SSH is for Nerdy Linux hacking and whatnot.

Team Fortress 2 Soundboards for all 9 Classes – Because ENTIRE TEAM IS BABIES!

TWiT.TV – So I can get all my shows in one place.

Google Voice – voice transcribed voice mails sent to my emailbox are better than regular voicemails.

Wardrive – I plan to map out all of the wifi hotspots I come across.

Yelp! – I like this service and figured this will make using it easier.

The HP Mini 311 Review – Part 3 – The How

This is the last part of my multipart “review” of my recently acquired HP Mini 311.  This is probably the most difficult to put down since at this point, it’s changing on a regular basis.  The How, is how things are going to be done, and how things are being done.  For example, i am currently typing this using windows Live Writer in Windows XP on this machine.  However I’ve spent MOST of the time using this machine in Ubuntu.

So I’ll start at the top with Windows Live Writer, since I already brought it up.  This is a program I’ve been wanting to use ever since it was first released.  The beef I always had was, keeping everything organized in one place.  Probably the primary reason I wanted a computer like this in the first place was for writing.  So far it has proven to be an excellent tool for this.  Now, i will give you that, because I use a “two fingered method” of typing, the transition to the slightly smaller keyboard hasn’t been much of an issue.  If you’re used to touch typing on a full sized keyboard, you may have some issues.

It is perfect for this use however.  It’s light weight enough that I can carry it anywhere in my bag.  Which means, for example, if I’m out eating somewhere, or at the park during lunch or whatever, i can easily pull it out if I feel like typing something up.  This has, so far, only amounted to a translation to writing more blog posts for my various outlets for such activities.  I plan to try to transition this into more long form writing.  It’s something i used to do that I do enjoy and have lots of good ideas for, but I can generally never find the time.  Being able to type virtually anywhere is a blessing for this.

Part of this type anywhere ability, I’ll admit, is the battery.  Not the battery size or anything, just that it’s there and works.  I’ve had a few used laptops over the years and none of them had a decent battery.  So using the computer say, while sitting in bed, required I dig out the cables and find a spare outlet nearby etc.  It was a hassle.  At this point I’d estimate that I plug this machine in maybe once a day for an hour or so, usually while it’s sitting on my office desk.

Back to Windows Live Writer.  It was probably the first program I installed since it’s an excellent tool for blogging.  The interface is intuitive, the ability to easily attach multiple blogs is great and in general, it’s something Microsoft should be proud of. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a Linux equivalent.  There are Linux blogger tools that are similar, but none of them are quite as robust.

Which leads me to the second part of the How, Ubuntu.  I’ve got a long and sordid history with Linux.  I do use it fairly regularly however… sort of….  Most of the Linux based set ups I “use” are “set it and forget it” style set ups.  An FTP server for work.  A file server at home.  Occasionally I log onto these machines via VNC and putz around with settings or play around with CURL but for the most part, they are autonomous creatures,  I’ve tried using various flavors of Linux “full time” but generally I have little long term success.  The other issue is that I’m not going to inflict that general irritation on my family with say, my main home machine.

This is where the personal portable, touch it and die Netbook is handy.  I can dual boot with ease.  I’m still not really ready to go all in and wipe out my XP install or anything, but I do use Ubuntu way more than I do XP. 

Again… sort of….

I’ve also been experimenting with VirtualBox to run a virtual session of Windows XP on top of my Ubuntu install.  Can you wrap you head around that?  I have an “underpowered” PC that can boot to either Windows or Ubuntu, and inside Ubuntu, it can also run Windows.

This allows me to do things I can’t do with just Ubuntu, like run Windows live writer (eventually).  Or play DOS based games like Diablo 2 or Grand Theft Auto.

Ubuntu however should get a post all of it’s own so I’ll save more of the details on that for later.

The HP Mini 311 Review – Part 2 – The What

So I wrote up a rather lengthy “review” or at least partial review last week for this new machine I’ve been using.  The thing to note is that, for the most part, I didn’t mention much actually pertaining to the device.

That’s where this post comes into play.

After careful consideration, I went with the HP Mini 311.  In my research, I’ve found that for the most part, most Netbooks have essentially the same specs.  There are quite a few options if you’re willing to spend more than $500 but for anything less you’re going ot get more or less the same formula.

  • N270 or N280 processor
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • 160 GB hard drive
  • Windows XP SP3 or Windows 7 Starter (DON’T GET STARTER)
  • Webcam
  • 3 USB Ports
  • VGA Port
  • 9-10” screen
  • Etc.

The Mini had two main advantages that swayed me to pick it and one minor advantage.  The minor advantage is really minor, I like the way it looks.  It has a nice two tone black and silver chassis that isn’t obnoxiously colored but isn’t too boring.

The major advantages come in the visuals.  Firstly, it has an 11” screen.  This makes it slightly larger than your average Netbook but not as humongous as a laptop.  The footprint is almost identical to a standard 8.5”x11” sheet of paper.

Secondly is the nVidia Ion Chipset.  Basically, instead the of integrated Intel graphics chip most Netbooks have, this has a separate chip made by a company that more or less specializes in graphics chips.  According to CNet’s benchmarks, this machine scores a massive factor (think hundreds to a thousand) times higher than most netbooks in the graphics department.  A bit of research actually suggests the Ion is a rebranded downsized version of the GeForce 9400 chipset, which is conveniently the same card i use in my desktop machine.

So what does this mean?  Two things.  Firstly, it runs video better than most Netbooks.  Secondly, I can play some 3D games.  No, I’m not going to be playing with screaming FPS and ultra graphics settings but it’ll still work.  I’ve already tested this with the two most graphically intense games I play, Team Fortress 2 and Second Life.  TF2 will need some settings tweaks (I only spent like 5 minutes testing it out) but it’s doable for a quick game.  SL is definitely usable and reasonably smooth is less busy areas.

As for other aspects, the wireless rage is decent, much better than my old laptop.  The speed is good, I’ve loaded this thing down fairly heavily and haven’t seen a huge dip in performance (more on this in Part 3).  I’m even dual booting with Ubuntu, though there was a bit of a hassle making that work smoothly.  Battery life is decent and works for 3-4+ hours easy.

In short, I’m pretty satisfied with my experience so far.  I’ll go into more detail on exactly what that experience entails however in the next post…