Integrated components vs discrete

Integrated components vs discrete is an old argument. I distinctly remember setting up a server for a new big-shot in 2004. I opened the server up to put memory in, and found its PCI slots filled with cards that duplicated all of the on-board components.

I asked my boss about this, and he said the guy had insisted on doing this, because “discrete components are better.”

I’ve been making jokes at the guy’s expense ever since.

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This unusual case wants to house your next PC

The Lope I-Tee computer case is, well, shaped like a T.
When David Huff e-mailed me about it, he called it interesting. I’ll certainly agree with that.

Here’s the idea: You mount the motherboard up against the back plane of the case and put the drives and the power supply up front, yielding a case that’s not as deep as a conventional case and cools better. Allegedly.

I hesitate to write about it because I haven’t worked with one, I haven’t tested one, and I haven’t even seen one. Hmm. I really don’t know anything about it but of course I have an opinion about it. I feel so Slashdotty.

One big advantage of a layout like this is that all the ports are on the side where you can see them and get to them easily. The biggest disadvantage of a layout like this is that all the ports are on the side where you can see them, and depending on the way your desk is set up, they might be on the wrong side.

USB peripherals and front-mount USB ports are the usual cure for fumbling around the back–you can plug your digital camera or other things that move around a lot up there–but plugging your other peripherals in the back hides the cables and prevents things from getting too unsightly. Let’s face it, plugs and cables don’t fit traditional, conventional ideas of a thing of beauty.

On the plus side, cases that disassemble easily are always nice, as are cases that take up less space. But a couple of minutes with my ruler and my ATX cases shows this case isn’t any less deep than most of my mainstream cases, and due to its shape, it is considerably wider. I’d love something that genuinely took up less space on or under my desk, but this case won’t be it.

This case won’t flop on the marketplace though. They claim it improves cooling. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. People buy aluminum cases because they supposedly conduct heat better. The reality is the difference in heat conductivity between expensive aluminum cases and cheap steel cases is nearly zero, and what difference you can measure is more likely due to aiflow than its material. Enthusiast overclockers still buy them anyway, hoping to get an extra 5 MHz out of their overclock. The same kind of people who buy aluminum cases for overclocking will go for the I-Tee, especially if the I-Tee’s cost is close to that of a mainstream case.

I can’t make any recommendations for or against it, based on not seeing it. But I’m willing to go out on a limb and say this–or a design like it–will survive at least as a niche product.

Fun with electricity

Fun with electricity. I’m trying to figure out if I’m overreacting or not. What really scares me is that this journalist seems to know a whole lot more about electrical safety than some other people working in an IS/IT department.
The scenario: I had a PC that wouldn’t boot or power off. It sat there in a catatonic state, HD LED solid, power LED solid, fans running, but no other signs of life. The only way to power it off was to pull the plug. Plug it back in, and it reverted instantly to the catatonic state. I popped the hood and didn’t see anything obvious. I did notice a weird smell, which isn’t unusual for an electrical problem, but it was somehow different. Organic… I unplugged the ATX power connector and went and plundered an ATX power supply from an old P166. I came back, plugged the plunder into the board’s power connector, connected the cord, and hit the switch. It fired up and the system POSTed. OK, it’s a short in the power supply. I’ll just e-mail Micron with the details and the serial number, and they’ll overnight me another one. In the meantime, this one’s not doing anything anyway.

So I unbolt the bad one, pull it out, flip it over, and get a nice splash of black liquid. What the? 10W40!? In a computer!? Wait… Suddenly the smell made sense. Old coffee. With cream and sugar, judging from how sticky my hands were getting. So I went to the facilities to wash my hands and get some paper towels to clean up the coffee spill that had now migrated to the IDE cables and elsewhere inside the case.

I cleaned up, assembled the system, and e-mailed my boss and my boss’ boss to ask what, if anything, needed to be said or done. My boss is incredibly busy, but my boss’ boss asked if we could loan them another Pentium II until theirs was fixed. I told him he was missing the point: I already got their computer working. My problem with the situation was we had an electrical device with liquid in it and no one told me before I started trying to fix it. The $35 power supply is meaningless. It’s a lot more expensive to repair or replace techs if they electrocute themselves.

He asked me what part of policy isn’t working if it’s not safe to work on equipment.

Am I the only one who remembers from grade school not to put a hair dryer in the bathtub? It’s the same principle, just with more current and less liquid. And I also remember from science class that pure water isn’t a conductor. It’s the stuff dissolved in the water that conducts. St. Louis has hard water. Add coffee. Add cream and sugar. Now you’ve got enough conductivity to short out the power supply. Having some idea what kind of juice accumulates in the power supply (I shook hands with a power supply a few years ago, which is why I don’t open power supplies anymore), this situation strikes me as dangerous.

I was at least owed the courtesy of being told they spilled coffee in there so I knew not to reach in with both hands and complete the circuit. The embarrasment is better than finding a dead Dave laying in their cube next to a dead Micron, isn’t it?

I guess I didn’t explain it well enough.

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