Yet another computer to play with

So… after 6 years of having laptops as my main computers, I suddenly decided to build myself a nice new desktop system. I’m not sure why now… but the more I thought about the projects I want to do, the more I realised they would be much easier to do on a Linux box with plenty of RAM and disk space and a reasonable amount of processing power (especially Project X-ray, Project Buster and Project Bits). I still had my old desktop machine, but it had been left unused for so long that I realised I was going to have to replace pretty much every bit of it now (new processor and RAM wouldn’t fit on the motherboard, so the motherboard was going to have to be upgraded as well, then the old IDE hard disk and DVD drive wouldn’t connect to the new motherboard so they’d have to go, the graphics card was ancient enough to be AGP rather than PCI Express, and even the power supply unit was lacking some connectors a modern machine would need). But despite all of this, I still found it would be cheaper to keep the old case and replace the guts of it than to start again.

I started with a pretty minimalist system: just a new motherboard with onboard graphics and sound, 8GB RAM, a quad core AMD CPU and a 2TB SATA hard drive. The new power supply unit was one I bought for my Dad’s old PC which then turned out not to actually be the source of his problems after all, and everything else (DVD drive, card reader, etc.) can be hooked up via USB – I might add more stuff inside the box later on.

The old case – I got this in early 1998 and it’s served me pretty well!

The new motherboard arrives, with RAM and CPU already installed. Unfortunately they’d installed the RAM in the wrong slots so only half of it was visible til I swapped it around, but that was still outweighed by not having to faff around installing the CPU and cooler myself.

I found it amazing that brand new components can fit into an almost 15 year old case and all the screw holes and connectors still line up perfectly. Almost nothing in the PC world lasts that long!

Success! Originally I’d been planning to dual boot Xubuntu Linux and Windows 7 on it, but the more I thought about it the more I realised I probably didn’t need Windows at all, so Xubuntu it was.

Although I’ve probably spent much more time using Windows overall, coming back to Linux still feels like my spiritual home, in a very geeky sort of way… like returning to your native country after years away; no matter how fluent you get in your new language, it’s never quite the same. It just feels like I understand it and am in control and find all the stuff I want to do easy, in a way that Windows never really feels, especially for coding. I love that I can install package after package in a few minutes using apt-get, and that I was able to copy and resize all the photos for this blog post in a single shell command (sure, you can install the UNIX shell on Windows too, but it doesn’t work as well, it’s not integrated deeply into the system the way it is on Linux). Not to mention no activation worries, no virus worries, and hardware that hasn’t worked for years in Windows (like my scanner) suddenly becomes usable again.

So far I am loving it. There have been very few problems apart from having to swap the RAM around, and the card reader I took out of my Dad’s old PC not working (I suspect that, like much of the hardware that’s spent a long time in his room, it’s probably died of smoking). Even though this kit would probably have hardcore gamers sniggering with derision, it still feels amazingly fast after years of using primarily Windows laptops. It has USB 3 ports so copying my files from my external drive was very fast as well. The sound quality from the built in 7.1 sound chip is much better than I expected, so I might not need to replace it after all. I’ve discovered some very nice new software (including a video editor, one of the things I was worried I might need Windows for). Although I decided not to dual boot with Windows, I did try installing Windows XP in a VirtualBox VM. This worked amazingly easily and allows me to run some old music software that hasn’t worked properly since I upgraded to Windows 7.

The only problem is, I’ve rediscovered Day Of The Tentacle after finding the CD while I was looking for something else, so my hopes of being productive on my projects may be out the window for a while.

Oh, and since you ask, yes it does have a name :). It’s called Luna. Not after any particular Luna, but I thought it sounded cool and I do quite like Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter as well as the Pet Shop Boys song Luna Park. So Luna it is.

(This wasn’t actually the first blog post I’ve written on Luna. That honour belongs to the Berlin post).

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