New Machine

My faithful primary home machine, castor, after 4.5 years, was showing its age, and was especially sluggish with Eclipse, which with I’d begun dabbling in Android work. (Past tense, since I’ve put Android on hold while working on a different project, DiffJ).

So it was off to newegg for the parts for a new machine. The main criteria were speed (CPU and disk), and cost, preferably under $1000, and ideally under $900. (OK, actually ideally would be $0, but that’s quibbling.)

Without much elaboration, here’s the final setup:

Case – Antec 300 Illusion

This is for my newly-claimed, newly-painted, newly-furnished (thank you, Ikea!), and newly-decorated home office, where “home office” no longer means “table in the kitchen, and desk in the bedroom”. Since I have the tendency to start working early in the morning, I wanted a machine with lights. (The missus was no fan of the blue nocturnal illumination in the bedroom, so the lights of my Sonata case had been taped over.)

The Illusion does provide no shortage of illumination, with three bright lights, good for my wee-hour stumbling into the (home) office. And at $70, it was quite affordable.

Motherboard – ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3

I’ve gone with Gigabyte and ASUS exclusively, and the Gigabyte motherboards supporting 6.0Gb/s SATA were not favorably reviewed on newegg, so this time it was ASUS’s fortunate turn. I also wanted onboard video, DVI specifically, since after getting a work machine with DVI, I’ve noticed the difference. ASUS motherboards are easy to work with, so this was an easy choice (after an hour or two of reading reviews). $150 at newegg.

CPU – AMD Phenom II X6 1075T

I generally prefer AMD for cost to performance, and this was very highly rated at cpubenchmark.net. At $175, it was right at the point of what I wanted to spend.

PSU – OCZ ModXStream Pro 600W

I’m not a gamer, and don’t have 6 SLI cards in my machines, but I wanted something above 500 watts. I’ve had a couple of failures of Antec CPUs, which I’ve exclusively used before, so I was looking for a modestly-priced alternative, and this was $75.

Memory – Kingston 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1333

To me, memory is memory, and the other web sites (Crucial, Corsair) were klunkier, so at $85, Kingston was king.

SSD – OCZ Vertex 2 60G

After working with an SSD, I’ll never use anything else for development. (Well, not until the next better alternative comes along.) At $105, this was pricey, but less so than the others. And it was from the same manufacturer as the PSU, appealing to my OCDness.

HDD – Western Digital Caviar Black WD1002FAEX 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 6.0Gb/s

$85 for one terabyte, and I use only WD drives, so this was an easy choice.

DVD – ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS Black SATA 24X DVD Burner

Mostly a ???, but same manufacturer as the motherboard. $25.

Network adapter – TP-LINK TL-WN851N PCI Wireless Adapter

I’ve had good luck with TP-Link and Linux. $27.

Keyboard – Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

The only Microsoft anything in this system, but I find their keyboards so much better than Logitech, and at $42, the 4000 is my favorite. Actually, I wanted the 7000 (wireless), but newegg wasn’t keeping them in stock. Maybe some day.

Mouse – Logitech M510 Black 5 Buttons Tilt Wheel USB RF Wireless Laser Mouse

Again, I’m not a gamer, but like the right-handed, full-sized mice the most, and opted for Logitech, at $40. I like my other mice, all Microsoft, but it’s becoming more difficult to find a non-“mobile” (read: small) mouse, and my big mitts don’t work well with those.

Assembly was straightforward, other than my being a bit befuddled by the EATX auxiliary power cord (8 prong, not 4), which resulted in black-screen at first boot. After some head-scratching (and reseating some dislodged memory), all was well.

Linux Mint is what I’ve been using for the past three or four machines, because It Just Works. No RPM fuddling, enabling restricted repositories, etc. Just boot, install, and off we go.

The trickiest part was how to mount and partition the SSD and HDD. Here’s mine, where the SSD is sda, and the HDD is sdb:

    /dev/sda1 on /boot type ext4
    /dev/sda5 on / type ext4
    /dev/sdb1 on /home type ext4
    /dev/sdb6 on /var type ext4
    /dev/sdb5 on /tmp type ext4
    /dev/sdb8 on /srv type ext4

That way the OS is on the SSD, as is /tmp. I do my development under /proc (it was /Files and /Depot, but I’m fighting the FHS less now).

The machine smokes, but only in the figurative sense. Far faster than before, and on par with my Intel X8 box.

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Migrating from Fedora 5 to Linux Mint 10

My four-year-old system, castor, was in dire need of upgrading, so based on the pleasant experience of installing Linux Mint on my latest laptop, I decided to switch from Fedora to Mint.

I’ve been a long-time Fedora user (and before that, Red Hat, going back to version 4, as I recall). It has always felt very “solid” yet incomplete. By that I mean that after installing Fedora, I’ve had to go install all the various media packages, adding livna and rpmfusion (?) to the RPM configuration, finding the plugins, MP3 support, and whatnot.

I’ve wanted an out-of-the-box (“It Just Works”) distribution for a while, and Mint seemed to have it: all the media packages, plugins, proprietary drivers, etc. So that’s what I installed on my laptop back in January, with Mint 8, and I was willing to do it again, with the latest version, Mint 10.

Overall, Mint 10 looks much better than 9. Granted, that may be because this installation was on a 24″ monitor running at 1920×1200 resolution, but even the themes look better. My primary complaint with Mint is the usage of so much light green — probably my least favorite color — but that has been toned down for a background of metallic grey — my favorite color.

The out-of-the-box experience was great. There was some dorking around with setting up the disk partitions, since I prefer hardware- and software-independent disks, meaning that I can take (and have taken) a drive from a fail(ing) box, pop it into a good one, mount it, and pull all the files off, without the added stress of having to configure it via software. A failed RAID controller years ago set me on the path of resisting the easy of using LVM, and going the more difficult route.

One aspect of the older versions of Fedora was that I could choose the option to install every available package during installation, and never need to track down packages in the middle of working on a project that called for additional software. Of course, that resulted in many packages I didn’t need, cluttering up the menus, but I figured it was worth the long-term benefit. It also avoided the pre-yum hassle of RPM hell.

But that changed around Fedora 9, as I recall, where only a minimal set of packages were installed. So that was another strike against Fedora.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, yes, I have no lack of laziness (nor impatience nor hubris). I want to boot the machine with the installation DVD, click a couple of boxes, hit “next” a few times, walk away, and sit down an hour later at a machine ready to work and/or play (both the machine, and I).

Mint solves much of that issue. However, there is the need to find the correct packages, but the synaptic package manager is so easy to use that it’s essentially trivial.

So, some minor issues here, which others may encounter:

mplayer

Running videos with mplayer -fs resulted in many errors such as:

X11 error: BadAlloc (insufficient resources for operation)

But this works properly: mplayer -fs -vo x11 -zoom

XEmacs

Listing directories with many entries became very time-consuming, a problem with dired.el. Additionally there was cruft at the end of the listing, evidently output from the change in how dired uses ls. So I added this to my .xemacs/init.el file:


(add-hook 'dired-load-hook
  (lambda ()
    (set-variable 'dired-use-ls-dired
      (and (string-match "gnu" system-configuration)
           ;; Only supported for XEmacs >= 21.5 and GNU Emacs >= 21.4 (I think)
           (if (featurep 'xemacs)
               (and
		(fboundp 'emacs-version>=)
		(emacs-version>= 21 5))
             (and (boundp 'emacs-major-version)
                  (boundp 'emacs-minor-version)
                  (or (> emacs-major-version 21)
                      (and (= emacs-major-version 21)
                           (>= emacs-minor-version 4)))))))))

Eclipse

One of the main reasons for my upgrade was to do Android development. However, after installing Eclipse and the Android Development Toolkit, there were errors when creating a new Android project:

…/platform-tools/adb: No such file or directory

Fortunately (for me) a friend had run into the same problem a few days ago, and this showed the fix to get the i386 compatibility libraries:

apt-get install ia32-libs

Rails

In short: Rails 3.0.3 (the current version) does not seem to run Rails apps written in 2.3, as is my site. So I downgraded by installing the 2.3.5 version of the Rails gem, and it works properly.

Reverse Printing

I very much like my printer, an HP C7250, but from Linux, pages are printed so that the first page of the document is printed face up, with the next page on top of it, etc., so the pages are printed collated in reverse.

From this post, I went to Control Center > Printing, right-clicked on my printer, went to Properties > Job Options, then at the bottom, under “Other Options (Advanced)”, typed “outputorder”, clicked on “Add”, then filled in the newly-added field with “reverse”. After pressing “Apply”, joy was had, since pages now come out in the proper, “reversed”, order.