Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Starting Over

Shortly after I posted my last blog entry in November 2007, a series of heat-related problems began to occur with ever-growing frequency. The root cause of the problem lay in the fact that the case I have used for my desktop PC since 2003 is, by current standards, too small to permit sufficient airflow to cool the system properly. Also, there were not enough openings for case fans to create the necessary airflow. The situation became even worse when I upgraded my system from 1 GB of RAM to 2 GB, consisting of 4 SDIMM units of 512 MB each. Although I applied aluminum heat spreaders to each one, the heat problem grew steadily worse, even when I left one side of the case completely open.

Matters finally came to a head in mid-June of 2008. I shut the computer down in order to go pick up and deposit my paycheck. When I returned, to my dismay and chagrin, the computer refused to start up! It would begin the power-up sequence, then abruptly shut down after about five seconds. At this point, I realized that, for all intents and purposes, my PC was dead as a doornail, and that I would have to build a new one almost entirely from scratch.

In assessing what I would need for such a new system, I determined that the SATA hard drive, the sound card, and the TV tuner card were all savalgeable, and I could safely use them in the new system. That would, however, still require a new case, power supply, motherboard, RAM, and a new video card. An online search revealed that a so-called "barebones kit" would most likely be the most cost-efficient approach. Due to an upcoming out-of-state trip, however, I would have to wait at least until November, and the beginning of the holiday season (and the numerous sales and specials hat would become available during that time) before I could even begin to contemplate such a purchase.

In the meantime, I still needed a PC to use in my apartment, as the computer facilities at my local public library are often in heavy use, especially by students. Thankfully, a very generous friend in my church was kind enough to allow me the use of a used IBM ThinkPad A20m laptop, complete with a wi-fi card, until I could get a new desktop unit built. Even so, I have had to upgrade the memory, and install a new hard drive and a DVD-ROM drive, as well as a complete re-installation of Windows and Linux, to get this new system to where I could really use it.

As of right now, "my" laptop is configured as follows:

IBM ThinkPad A20m with Pentium III CPU @ 700 Mhz
512 MB of RAM (the maximum amount the system will hold)
120 GB hard drive
NetGear wireless card
Windows XP Home Edition, upgraded to Service Pack 3
Xubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron), operating in a "dual-boot" setup with Windows XP
DVD-ROM drive, which can be "swapped out" with the original CD-ROM drive if need be
An extra battery
Cooling pad containing 2 fans and a 4-port USB hub
Two USB external hard drives (one is 80 GB PATA-133, the other is 120 GB SATA-300),
which are primarily intended for home use and for backups

Future upgrades will be confined to a possible DVD burner drive (to replace the current DVD-ROM drive), possibly equipped with LightScribe capability (if the budget permits!), plus an upgraded version of InterVideo's WinDVD package. (I am currently using an OEM edition of WinDVD version 5, which is limited to strictly 2-channel sound; I may upgrade to the Platinum Edition of WinDVD version 6, which includes full Dolby Headphone surround support. Due to hardware constraints, it would be pointless to upgrade to any later version of this package, since the CPU's clock speed would not meet the package's hardware requirements.)

Despite the setbacks I have suffered along the way, I am still hoping to have a full home theater/media center desktop PC in operation by the end of 2008, or by early 2009. (I should note that, in place of Linux MCE, I will most likely be using the "Mythbuntu" Linux distribution (again as a "dual-boot" setup with either Windows XP Home Edition or Windows XP Media Center 2005) as the primary operating system. This is due to the fact that Linux MCE does not allow the end user to check for updates or add software manually, a restriction I cannot accept. Also, Linux MCE is designed more as a "whole-house" setup than a simple, "one-PC" system such as I am having to use (especially since I live in an apartment), and is therefore "overkill" in my situation.) Anyhow, stay tuned for further developments!

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