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April 10, 2006

State of Computing

Technology keeps advancing and its passed some milestones that made me rethink how the computers I use are configured. Prices have declined across the board, in general you can go with the more is merrier approach to components. With the operating systems today and the true multi-tasking everyone ends up doing, multi-processors are key to keeping the interface snappy and responsive. The same causes push the RAM requirements up and I'd now say 1GB is the minimal for a active user. In terms of hard disks, they fail. With the availability of RAID on board most motherboards, double up on disks and mirror them in RAID-0. This buys you at least some security. Secondary to that, get another drive or drives to use for backup. Its always a good idea to keep a good separation of OS, applications and data so its easy to migrate and recover whats necessary and repair the rest. Capacity isn't much of a concern anymore, the smallest drive should be sufficient for general operation. My opinion still holds on the purchasing quality hardware. Spend a little extra where required to get the best, it often ends up saving time and headaches.

The more the merrier approach also applies to computers. If you're using computers for more than the basic applications and are seriously addicted to the internet, start looking seriously at splitting off some of the tasks into separate machines. It removes the single point of failure and gives you a leg up bootstrapping from a failure or upgrade. It also lends itself to my application of the KISS principle, try to keep the software you install to a minimal. The more you pile on, the more likely you are to encounter a bug or interaction. Also by limiting changes, you can tend to track crashes to the last change. Dell has been selling very cheap computers for $250-300. For that you get a basic PC with Windows and a warranty. At that price, upgrading an older machine or buying used merits serious consideration.

Power, heat and noise are now serious considerations in computers. Power supplies are a critical point, the load and tolerances are such that this is not a component that can be overlooked anymore. With the increase in power comes an increase in heat. The first problem is getting the heat off the components and out of the case, this usually isn't that hard of a problem. But if you want to keep the system quiet it becomes a big challenge, careful consideration of all cooling components, placement and operation is required. Also remember that all this heat has to go somewhere, each machine is 100-200W heater running continuously, if you put a bunch of them in an area, its going to get warm. Back to noise, there are really two sources, fans and hard drives. In the past couple years manufacturers of hard drives have done wonders and drives are now very quiet. Fans on the other hand are always problematic. Keys to fans: 1) reduce the number 2) reduce the speed 3) increase the size. http://www.silentpcreview.com/ has some good information on making things quiet. I hate to keep referring to Dell, but thats who I have experience with. They do a good job of making their desktop machines quiet. Cases are also not something to overlook anymore. Connector tolerance is also very fine and cheap flimsy cases keep parts from lining up and and can flex enough to disconnect components.

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