What Up

The following will probably be only interesting to people who build their own computers (and probably not even them), so feel free to skip this post.

My little Shuttle XPC computer gave up the ghost (the onboard SATA raid controller got really messed up). It took me a good while to frankenstein together a reasonable machine out of all the parts that were stashed away in my apartment, so I am a-computin’ again. I am researching a purchase of a high powered replacement, but meanwhile, let me share some technical tidbits that I’ve learned along the way.

First of all, it’s really easy to actually fry a floppy drive. Fried floppy drives look like they are working, but they don’t. And without a floppy drive you can’t install (or repair) Windows 2000 or XP on a SATA or IDE raid array. Even if your motherboard claims that it can boot from a USB floppy drive, it probably can’t. Well, at least mine can’t. The moral of the story is that doing away with legacy hardware such as a floppy is not a good idea.

Anyhoo, it’s a good idea to have separate two drive arrays: one for data and one for the system and programs (it’s a good practice to point data directories such as the desktop to the data array). The data array should run raid 1 (mirroring) – that way if one drive dies, you will still have another. You can periodically backup onto a third drive and hold it in a remote location. With 250 gig SATA drives costing about 100 bucks there is no reason not to do this.

The system drive should run raid 0 (striping). Striping actually significantly speeds the system up. You can also keep the system drive small, say about 40 gig – and back it up onto the data drive via Norton Ghost. It might be a good idea to splurge on real SCSI drives and a card. In fact, that’s what I’ll probably do for my new computer, as drives seem to be more of a speed bottleneck than RAM or processors.

SATA drives can be mounted externally: it’s called eSATA. If you have a small computer such as an XPC it’s a very good idea, as the drives become much easier to cool. I am probably going to jerry rig an eSATA enclosure out of an old computer case and some hotswap thingies, but they are also available from these guys.

I am a big fan of dual monitors – have two 17″ lcds. To run a dual monitor setup you need either two video cards or a “dualhead” video card. Well, I have a dualhead Matrox P750 (bought it because it has 2 dvi outputs), and boy does it suck. Driver installation is a nightmare – there are several versions of video card bios and and a multitude of driver versions. Most don’t work and crash Window. If you do get it to work, the stupid card can’t work well with low color/resolution settings: it shows lines and crazy patterns in bios screens. There’s a bios fix out, but it does not work. More than that, if you want to color match the monitors through a calibration cajigger, you can’t set up individual color profiles on the monitors. In short, I am much better off with two separate cards.


Did you know that you can color calibrate your monitor with a nifty usb powered gadget so that your digital photos will stop looking like crap? I’ve used one for a while, and it rocks!

GRETAGMACBETH Eye-One Display 2 (This is the one that I have. People say that it’s a little bit better than the cheaper
ColorVision Spyder 2)

ColorVision Spyder 2

Some Microsoft Poetry

I have not had any problems with Windows 2000 for years. Until the last couple of months. One of the patches must have done something to the crispy crunchy goodness that is Windows graphics code. Since then – nothing but trouble. It seems to begin when I have too many windows open. It happens both at work and at home where I have completely different video cards.

I already replaced a floppy drive in my home computer with an internal memory card reader. This left me totally unprepared to nasty progression of : messed up window rendering -> bungled driver upgrade -> 640×480 only mode -> 640×480 only mode in safe mode only -> crash -> crash -> crash -> fundamental system file corrupted -> repair boot that DEMANDS THE STUPID RAID DRIVER ON A FLOPPY -> a whole weekend with a computer that has all my files on it that won’t even boot. This is what you get when your operating system of choice has graphics code mixed in with everything else.

That’s it. From now on there will be a fully built Linux server with all my files on it somewhere in my apartment. Hopefully in a couple of years I’ll be able to make a complete switch to Linux. Lets face it: Windows XP is slow, buggy and generally crappy. Especially in it’s Tablet PC variety. I can’t even imagine what crap they are whipping up right now without Dave Cutler, but that doesn’t matter. It’s going to be too little too late. Now, if there was a whole lot of developers walking around MS campus with Cutlers boot squarely up their collective asses things might have been different. And now Windows 2000 is messed up by patches. Linux starts to look better and better.