What to look for in a motherboard

What to look for in a motherboard

I’ve been building PCs for more than 20 years and I tend to keep them a very long time, so it occurred to me that someone might be interested in what I look for in a motherboard to ensure both a long, reliable life and a long useful life.

Technology has changed a lot but what I look for has remained surprisingly consistent over the years.

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IBM PS/2 vs PC

IBM PS/2 vs PC

The IBM PS/2 line was a fairly radical departure from the older IBM PC line. This was deliberate, as IBM wanted to disrupt the clone industry, which it saw as a threat to its business. Here’s a look back at the IBM PS/2 vs PC, the line it replaced.

IBM succeeded with the PC because it created an ecosystem, not just a PC. IBM’s misstep was creating an open architecture and then trying to close it back up after the fact with the PS/2. In IBM’s defense, it’s not clear whether they knew this at the time. If nothing else, in the case of the IBM PS/2 vs PC, IBM created a classic case study of open architecture vs closed.

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How to fix a computer that won’t turn on

How to fix a computer that won’t turn on

When a computer won’t turn on, it’s usually a simple repair you can do yourself. Frequently it doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t require any parts. If you do need parts, you can expect it to cost $70 or less and get it done in less than an hour. Here’s how to fix a computer that won’t turn on.

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Using PC ATX power supplies on a train layout

PC power supplies are exceptionally cheap and plentiful these days. If you’ve noticed and wondered whether you can use PC ATX power supplies on a train layout, wonder no more. You can.

Thanks to the miracle of mass production, even the cheapest, nastiest PC power supply gives far more power output per dollar than any train transformer. So if the lights and accessories on your electric train layout can run on 12 volts DC, which is a fairly good bet, you can get a lot of wattage for very little money by repurposing an inexpensive ATX power supply, whether new or secondhand. And on a wattage-per-dollar basis, they’re about twice as cost-effective as outdoor lighting transformers, which are another popular option for hobbyists.

All it takes to use these cost-effective ATX power supplies is a bit of rewiring.

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Upgrading a Compaq Evo D510 for Windows 10 and beyond

I had an old Compaq Evo D510 full-size tower/desktop convertible PC, from the Pentium 4/Windows XP era, that I wanted to upgrade. The machine long ago outlived its usefulness–its Pentium 4 CPU is less powerful than the average smartphone CPU while consuming enough power to be a space heater–but the case is rugged, professional looking, and long since paid for. So I thought it was worth dropping something more modern into it.

I chose the Asrock Q1800, which sports a quad-core Celeron that uses less than 10 watts of power and runs so cool it doesn’t need a fan. It’s on par with an early Intel Core 2 Duo when it comes to speed, which won’t turn any heads but is plenty fast to be useful, and the board can take up to 16 GB of DDR3 RAM and it’s cheap. I put 16 GB in this one of course. I loves me some memory, and DDR3 is cheap right now.

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How to roll your own mini PC and potentially save

I’ve talked at length about HP’s new mini PCs, but there are some alternatives in the DIY space. For example, Asrock offers the D1800B-ITX, which sells for around $53. Going the DIY route, you won’t get a discounted copy of Windows, but you also won’t spend money on RAM and an SSD that you’re going to end up replacing and you can get exactly as much CPU as you want.

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How to convert any ATX or microATX case to silent operation

Now that SSDs and CPUs that consume 10 watts are readily available and inexpensive, it’s possible for almost any mainstream PC to be a silent PC. You can of course buy new cases for silent-PC builds, but if you want to upgrade and save a little money while doing it, you can easily convert a legacy case of almost any age to work silently. If you have an AC adapter from a discarded or disused laptop or LCD monitor, you can do this project for less than $30. Here’s how.

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What to do when you have more open slots than drive bays

Every once in a while you find something you weren’t looking for, then you wonder why you never thought of it before. That’s what I thought when I saw the Kingwin 2-Bay PCI adapter. It’s a bracket that slides into a couple of empty slots and gives you space to mount a pair of 2.5″ hard drives or SSDs.

It’s brilliant because almost any computer these days has empty slots because all of the essential stuff that used to be on plug-in boards comes integrated onto the motherboard these days. And if you put a micro ATX motherboard into a full ATX case like I often do, you have at least two empty slots that you couldn’t use even if you wanted to.

This is a brilliant way to get a couple of additional drive bays in a desktop computer, so I highly recommend it.

The difference an SSD makes

Back in the spring I bought a used computer. My wife wanted one, and while I probably could have cobbled something together for her, I didn’t have any extra Windows 7 licenses. So I bought a home-built Pentium D-based machine with Windows 7 on it from an estate sale for $70. The Windows license is worth that, so it was like getting the hardware for free.

When I got the hardware home to really examine it, it turned out not to be quite as nice as I initially thought. It was a fairly early Socket 775 board, so it used DDR RAM and had an AGP slot, limiting its upgrade options. The system ran OK, but not great, and it was loud.

The hard drive was a 160 GB Western Digital IDE drive built in 2003. That’s an impressive run, but a drive that old isn’t a good choice for everyday use. It’s at the end of its life expectancy and it’s not going to be fast. This weekend I got around to replacing it with an SSD. Read more

Curious conspiracies… or maybe just progress all at once

In the wake of Truecrypt’s sudden implosion, someone sent me a link to this curious blog post. I can see why many people might find the timing interesting, but there are a number of details this particular blog post doesn’t get correct, and it actually spends most of its time talking about stuff that has little or nothing to do with Truecrypt.

What’s unclear to me is whether he’s trying to say the industry is deliberately sabotaging Truecrypt, or if he’s simply trying to make a list of things that are making life difficult for Truecrypt. His post bothers me a lot less if it’s just a laundry list of challenges, but either way, the inaccuracies remain. Read more

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