New Hardware - New Hardships

You’ve just spent money on hardware, what now?

I’ve had my own PC since 1996 IIRC, but I’ve never had a pre-assembled one. That has come with its own challenges; I’ve had to change parts myself, usually buying them piece at a time. This is kind of nice, actually, I mean I wouldn’t want to make a job out of changing computer parts, but occasionally it’s nice, just like assembling IKEA furniture is fun when you don’t have to do it more than a few times in a year.

PC, the promised land of modularity and hardware standards

Buying parts one at a time does present its problems, however, your motherboard may be too old to support DDR3 or the processor socket isn’t a fit. This is hard to plan for in advance, especially if you don’t know when you’re going to buy the next parts, so sometimes things go wrong. About a year ago, I spent a load of doolah on superfast DDR3 RAM, 2x4GB. Ok, great, good to get rid of the 1GB antiquity that doesn’t get you too far, especially if you try to compile WebKit. I bought a new HD as well, 1.5TB. Awesome, right? Then there’s the moment of fail when the power adapter you just got for your new motherboard about a year ago doesn’t have a SATA power cable. There’s also that 80GB thing that’s been lying around, borrowed from a friend, that also needs SATA power. To get another one we go then, it’s not like money didn’t grow on trees, eh?

Right, now we have 2 additional HDs in, all systems installed, we even have 500GB of swap for Linux (yeah, you can lose the perspective and rationale when you plug in a 1.5TB beast after using a 80GB one for a long time). Let’s put in the memory. Oh, screen is black? Is the memory bad, connected wrong, short-circuited? Ahh, I see, it’s not supported by the motherboard. But what is this, the manual says it supports up to 16GB of memory and max 4GB at each slot? Let’s look at the support table. Oh, turns out when the motherboard was published, there weren’t any 4GB DDR3 sticks. Right. Well, I’ll just keep these around until I get a new motherboard. sigh

Let’s get us a laptop!

So, half a year ago or so, I got my first laptop. It’s a Sager powerhouse and the cost was colossal, but well worth it. 120GB SSD, 3.2GHz quad core (8 logical), 16GB RAM, state-of-the-art display driver (I haven’t managed to find a desktop one that even matches the specs and is under $1000, and this thing is like 2 inches in diameter), heatsinks, bluray, WiFi hotspot, bluetooth, fingerprint detector, built-in 5.1 speakers (????) and whatnot. This thing takes a little bit over 10 seconds to boot, regardless of the OS, whereas the t-rusty old desktop might take 5 minutes if it’s a bad day. Kinda makes the desktop look bad, I mean, it’s not portable, the keyboard sucks (the US keyboard on the laptop is quite nice for programming), it’s humongous, generates a lot of heat and makes a lot of noise.

Hardware infidelity

So suddenly, you’re spending all your time with this shiny new thing, and the desktop is left to gather dust in the corner. Maybe you give it an occasional chance, but get frustrated when it takes such a long time to boot and the OSes are all clogged up, etc. I felt sorry for the little piece of rusting metal, so I decided to give myself and him a birthday present. I went ahead and checked my nearest hardware dealer for a 8GB memory kit that would actually be compatible with my motherboard, and ordered that. I also got a 120GB SSD to boost up those loadtimes. Another thing I got was an E-SATA dock, to make my 1.5TB HD external, so I could share the space between the laptop and the desktop.

Emperor’s New Groove

The parts have arrived, let’s get our hands dirty. Let’s start by booting to that old Ubuntu thing and moving stuff from the soon-to-be-external drive to the two 80GB ones. Why? Well, because I don’t want 500GB of my external drive to be swap, and neither do I want it to be a complicated multi-partition drive. Maybe unnecessary, but I felt like I needed to do that, to get rid of some baggage that’s been gathering. So, stuffing the contents of a 500GB partition to two 80GB ones is no easy task, especially because they were already full. Luckily, in Linux, we can freely unstabilize the Windows part and destroy things we don’t need. I also had to get rid of most of the rips I’ve made of my CD collection, because, well, there just wasn’t enough space and I could rip them again. I preserved a few albums because I remembered the CDs have fatal scratches on them, preventing me from listening to them if I destroy the rips. I also made a shocking discovery: I have gathered about 160GB of baggage, some of it dating back to 1999. Some of it is backups of old photos and backups of that and backups of that, but I didn’t have time to go through that in enough detail to get rid of redundancy.

Switching it up

After the transfer was complete, it was time to plug the 1.5TB HD in to the dock and format it, using the laptop. Yayy, 1.5TB of free NTFS space. Ok, let’s plug it back in the desktop, fire up the windows and transfer the data back to the big one.

grub rescue >

Oops, yeah, I did have the grub installed on the 1.5TB one, didn’t I? Nice, so I can’t boot to Windows without reinstalling grub. I’ll just burn an Ubuntu Live CD and get rolling. Great, that thing does take a long time to boot, and the DVD drive makes an ugly noise while at it. Let’s pretend we don’t hear it, and just move the files back. Done. Now turn off the computer, take out the 80GB hard drives and put them in the closet as backups. Now install the SSD (wow is that light and small, or what?). Mine came with a sticker that said “MY SSD IS FASTER THAN YOUR HD”. All well, let’s install Windows (64 bit, no less, we actually use for those extra bits now), and save about 10GB at the end of the SSD for Archlinux. That was simple, and works fine if you disregard the lack of drivers. Now let’s get that 8GB RAM in.

The memory doesn’t fail

As you might have guessed, after installing the RAM, the screen is black again. Let’s Google this thing to see if there’s actually some information about this thing this time. Turns out, I found some similar problems, but more importantly I found a BIOS patch that reportedly fixes a lot of memory problems. That looks like the thing we need. Now here comes the fun part, I’ve been a long time ASUS motherboard user, so I’m used to flashing the ROM using EZFLASH. I had to Google a bit to gain confidence and refresh the memory, but it was pretty straight forward. I formatted a USB key to use FAT32 and put the new ROM file there. Then boot to BIOS, and just pick the file from EZFlash. The first drive the utility wants you to find the ROM file from is “System Reserved” a Windows partition that stores some boot information, etc, IIRC. This is formatted as FAT for some reason, so it shows up on the list. OK, how do I switch to the USB key? “: switch drive”. OK. A few days ago, I noticed that the desktop keyboard had fallen off the table. It took some minor damage, nothing serious, the cover of the TAB key had gone to pieces, didn’t look that bad, but for some reason the key didn’t work anymore. And really, this key is THE KEY I need for this very operation? Someone is playing tricks on me, but I’ll play. Let’s try if some escape sequence would be equivalent to tab. Google search doesn’t yield anything, and trying out a few doesn’t either. Right, well how about we put the ROM file on the “System Reserved” drive, since it’s FAT. We can’t do that from Windows, we don’t have the right to write there. Let’s fire up that Ubuntu Live CD again. Wow, it really does take a long time to boot. Wait, the drive is making no sound at all anymore. Oh great, the DVD drive is busted. What next? The sudden flash of obvious, take the power cord off the SSD, and the USB drive is listed as first.

The BIOS update goes well, awesome! All things boot up normally… Now let’s see if the memory works. And it does. Yaaayyy, 8GB of memory! Wait, what about that memory I bought back then, maybe it would work now as well? And it does. So here we go, 16GB of memory. Now let’s move on to installing the drivers. We’ll start with the external WiFi adapter, because that’s the one I can actually remember the model of. Ralink 2870STA, I’ve fought a lot of battles to get this one working, hard to forget. So, yay, internetz, here we come. Now, this resolution is starting to look hideous, we need the display drivers. It would be nice if I remembered the manufacturer of the card, let alone the model name, but no can do, let’s search the installation CDs. Unfortunately, the package doesn’t reveal anything more than the manufacturer: ASUS. It has an installation CD, but that didn’t help much else than prove that DVD drive is busted. Lucky me, I keep the lid open on the desktop (because the ventilation can’t handle it if it’s closed), so I see a serial number on the display adapter. So, let’s hit the ASUS support site and enter that code while the computer is on. So, ASUS has this nice search tool for you to search based on the serial number. Too bad it didn’t work. I had to look closer at the circuitry to see the model name in fine print. That helped, and drivers are now installed, we’re done. It took just 8 hours and it’s 4am. Oh well, wife and kid have been sleeping for a while now, but oh well. I feel gratified. I solved all the problems thrown at me.

Vendor lock-in

Now, what did I learn? Surprisingly, I learned something about Apple. I’ve never liked Apple much. I mean, they make solid products and all that, but they lock you in their walled garden, you can’t install the system on a non-Intel piece of hardware without prodding it a bit (look it up, there’s guides, I’ve even seen iOS running on a Samsung Galaxy S). They also presume that you’re stupid or want to be treated that way, and can’t / don’t want do things for yourself, like assemble a computer from parts or import photos off a camera. But that’s just me, not everyone gets gratification of putting the parts in themselves, or wants to decide how the photos get organized, they like it to be done for them. Just like I don’t get gratification from cleaning up, but I like things to be clean (that makes me look so good I seriously hope you didn’t read this far). So, here you go Apple, I applaud you. I’ll never use you, unless either of us changes, but you’ll never care, you were never trying to get to people like me.


Thank you for reading this far, I realize it must have been painful to navigate through this wall of text, but I hope you’ll give me mercy since this is my first proper blog post and I still need practise to be more concise. Also, thanks to @nddrylliog for pushing me to finally start this blog (blame him).

Posted 2012-03-10T05:00:00.000Z.