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.
I finished a modernization project where I replaced all of my 100-megabit gear with gigabit-capable gear, including my cabling and router and access points. But after I replaced my last 100-megabit switch, I found we had two Windows desktops refusing to speed up. Here’s how to fix a gigabit card only connecting at 100mbps.
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.
If you need gigabit ports for your home server or router project and you’re short on available expansion slots, I have just the thing. Home sysadmins have known for a while that you can get cheap PCI-X Intel NICs and run them in PCI mode, but you may not know that you can find the very same thing by searching Ebay for HP 7170 and it’s usually cheaper. It’s not rare to find them for $7, shipped.
I’ve long recommended hard-coding your DNS settings as a performance and reliability enhancement–here’s my guide for that–but it turns out it can be a security enhancement too.
Botnets targetting routers aren’t new at all, but there’s a particularly nasty one named Moose running around right now. Among other things, it changes routers’ DNS settings to point to rogue DNS servers that allow the attackers to steal your social media credentials, furthering the bot. Read more
Earlier this year at CES, HP introduced its HP Stream Mini ($180) and Pavilion Mini ($320 and $450) mini-desktops. They’re small, inexpensive, and in the case of the Stream, silent. They turn out to be surprisingly upgradeable as well. Ars Technica has details and benchmarks, but of course I have my own priorities based on their discoveries.
So, a relative’s PC was getting a bit aged, and runs Windows XP, barely, so I talked them into an upgrade. I noticed that Micro Center had HP/Compaq DC5700s for $99. They were standard issue office PCs a few years ago, and there are a lot of them in the refurb channel. We went and got one over the weekend.
“What are you going to do with that?” the sales rep asked. “We only use them as cash registers.”
“Word processing,” I said.
“You sure you want to run Windows 7 on an 8-year-old PC?”
“I wrote the book on running Windows on older PCs. Literally. It’ll be fine.”
I hate calling rank like that, but sometimes it’s what you have to do.
And really, for $99, it’s awfully good. Web browsing is plenty fast, Libre Office runs fine on it, and think about it. Windows 7 retails for $100-$109. So it’s like getting the hardware for free. Or Windows for free, however you want to look at it.
I built my main desktop PC three and a half years ago and have no complaints about it, save one. Hard to believe, but PC hardware has improved considerably in recent years. This weekend, I sunk $30 into it to solve my single complaint, and now I can reasonably expect to get another three years out of it, if not longer.