You Put The Peanut Butter Into the Cookie Jar…

I have a vague memory of  a Sesame Street skit with Bert and Ernie, where Ernie put the peanut butter into the cookie jar, and the cookies in the sugar jar, then the suger into the fish bowl, and the fish into the…whatever. You get the idea – swapping things around to make space, but you always end up with something that needs to go someplace else.

Last weekend I spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday working on the PCs in my office. I’ll write up a different post about the Velocity Micro PC (yes, it’s finally working), but it was the piece of the puzzle that was missing (like a cookie jar). I couldn’t do anything with my machines until it was working properly – oh, and that XFX 7600GS video card that I was waiting for as well. Once I started tearing down my PCs to put Vista on them, I also decided to swap parts around to get the best performance where I needed it the most. That meant taking the XFX 7600GS video card (passively cooled, totally silent) and 2 GB of Kingston RAM from my main workstation (a Shuttle SD11G5) and putting them into the Velocity Micro machine, taking the 2 GB of high-performance RAM and high-performance ATI Radeon 1950 from the Velocity Micro and putting them in the Shuttle SD11G5. Why? Well, the Velocity Micro PC is going to be serving as my TV recording/music storage PC, so it didn’t need either the high-performance RAM or video card – it’s hooked up to a Dell 26″ LCD TV that is no good for gaming. Swap one complete.

Then I had a medium-sized tower PC that I was using to test Vista on, recently wiping the hard drive to install the Windows Home Server beta on it. This PC had a 3.2 Ghz Celeron CPU in it (overclocked to 3.4 Ghz if memory serves), 1 GB of RAM, a 120 GB hard drive, and a Radeon 9600 GPU. Fine for testing Vista with (even with Aero Glass), but overkill for Windows Home Server. Then I had a Shuttle SN95G5 machine that I had been using as my Windows Media Center 2005 PC for the past couple of years. Great machine, and with the Velocity Micro now taking over that role, I was going to use it as a dedicated photo/video/audio editing workstation (my 17″ Fujitsu laptop just wasn’t cutting it). One of the three Dell 24″ LCD monitors I purchased was also going to be dedicated to this task. Unfortunately when I started to install Vista on the SN95G5, I was seeing it hang at boot. I poked around in the BIOS, but couldn’t solve the problem, so I dropped Shuttle tech support a line. Turns out the AMD 64 X2 4400+ CPU I had put in there last year wasn’t fully compatible with the motherboard – it would work fine in Windows (it had been working great) but the system would have trouble booting with it in (well that explains a few things).

Problem is, I paid $500 for that CPU (which then dropped in price by 50% 45 days later), and I also had a 500 GB hard drive, 2 GB of RAM, and another XFX 7600 GS video card installed in that machine. I wasn’t about to go back to the AMD 64 3500+ I had in it before – I wanted the dual-core firepower for working with RAW files – so that left me with only one option: get a new Shuttle XPC that would work with the hardware I had. The Socket 939 CPU is now obsolete, so that meant I couldn’t purchase a new Shuttle. I found an SN25P at Memory Express, which would work with all my hardware, and ordered it online on Monday night with in-town courier delivery. Today is Friday and I still don’t have it, but that’s a rant for another day.

I still had that SN95G5 XPC sitting there, and I didn’t want it to go waste, even if I personally wasn’t going to be using it. I started looking through my bin of hardware, and came across some old PC2700 RAM, 512 in total. I still had the AMD 3500+ CPU that was sitting in my “pile of things to eBay”. And I had that PC running Windows Home Server that had overkill hardware. Time for more parts swapping! I removed the 1 GB of RAM, 120 GB hard drive, and Radeon 9600 Pro video card from the Windows Home Server machine. I put in the old 512 MB of RAM I had, a lowly GeForce 5500 video card, and the 60 GB hard drive from my mother-in-laws computer that was replaced by a new Vista laptop. Humble hardware, yes, but sufficient to run Windows Home Server on. I then assembled the SN95G5 XPC with the 1 GB of RAM, 120 GB hard drive, the 3500+ CPU, a 16x Samsung DVD burner, and a GeForce 6600 that was in it originally (the card runs cool enough for me to unplug the fan to make it silent). I overclocked it to the 4000+ level (2400 Mhz) by bumping the voltage (a dangerous task that I’ve never performed before – I’m a “wussy” overclocker) and it completed a 12 hour burn in last night. It’s a great little machine now, and I think I know what I’m going to do with it.

After all that, I still had to re-assemble the Windows Home Server (WHS) PC, which was easy enough – the install went ok, and once I remembered to connect the Ethernet cable to the PCI network card I added rather than the on-board network card that WHS lacked drivers for, I was up and running. I put it in my back room, connected two external USB hard drives (250 GB and 160 GB), and now have 439 GB of storage to test with.

While some people may read everything above and think it was a nightmare, I had a blast – like a “pig in poop” my grandmother might say (thankfully no feces were present during the hardware swapping). Swapping around parts and installing operating systems is fun for me, even when I hit snags along the way. Once I get the Shuttle SN25P, I’ll be able to build the last machine and finally get my office completely set up. I’m still having some frustrations with the Velocity Micro PC, but they seem to be mostly software-related glitches that may require a complete wipe and re-install (which I didn’t do). By the end of this coming weekend, my goal is to have everything humming along perfectly – something I originally had hoped to achieve back in December. Better late than never I suppose! My mood and psyche is closely tied to the state of my computer hardware (it’s a strange symbiotic relationship) so I’ve been a bit grumpy lately…and I know that when I get this all working Ashley will be almost as happy as I am. 😉