25 May 2006

ph33r my 1337n355

“So…,” I said to Dan around 3:30 p.m. yesterday, “I’m sorry—-I’ve
got to run. I want to put this computer together so I can show the
product to people by the close of business today.”


Thirteen hours later, I now think that I might — might! — have the
computer working.

This is why I didn’t go into hardware.

Some tips, so you don’t repeat my mistakes:

  • Bring the laptop. Always bring the laptop. When I took the new

computer from Boston to Cambridge (where it resides for now), the
voice of reason won out: “Joe, it’ll only slow you down. It’s
really heavy. Besides, you have another computer there. Why would
you need the laptop?” Needless to say, I answered this one around
2 a.m., when I spent an hour or so trying to sort out a DHCP
failure at two in the morning with two potentially-broken

  • Don’t move a CD-ROM drive while it’s spinning. I trashed a Knoppix

CD this way. I might have even trashed the drive, because it didn’t
seem to work properly after that (but it might not have been working
to begin with).

  • The Gigabyte GA-8I945GMF motherboard isn’t just bleeding edge, it’s

freakin’ hemorrhaging wound. Linux 2.6.15 isn’t 31337 enough for
it, apparently — to get the on-board Ethernet to work, I needed
2.6.16. (Note that I said “work”. 2.6.15 recognized that there was
an Ethernet card, but pointedly discarded any data I tried to send
through it. An ancient 3COM boomerang card (which I fortunately had
snagged from MIT reuse some months back) did work, though.

  • On that same note, if you’re trying to use the motherboard with both

PATA (IDE) and SATA devices, make sure you switch the “On-Chop SATA
Mode” to “Enhanced”. Otherwise, you’ll get delightful errors: after
I booted the Debian installer from CD, it would complain that it
couldn’t find a CD-ROM drive. No, I’m not making this up.

  • After I managed to get the OS installed and booted, the kernel

started spewing KERN_EMERG errors (“CPU0: Running in modulated clock
mode” “CPU0: Temperature above threshold”) to the console. Googling
confirmed that these are generated by the processor when it thinks
it’s overheating. A gob of thermal paste didn’t help matters, but
reseating the heatsink did. It’s not as though you have to push the
heatsink anchors down hard. You have to push them down really
really really damned hard. I could have sworn I was going to
ruin the motherboard —- which would have been one of the least fun,
but not the least fun, experience I’ve had for $90. (According to
Intel, you’re supposed to mount the heatsink after installing the
motherboard in the chassis — so it’s anchored a half-inch above the
case by a bunch of screws, and has a lot more room to bend than if
it were on the floor.) After I managed to get the confirmatory
click from all of the anchors, I haven’t seen the CPU core
temperature rise above 52 degrees. (Yet. I’m sure it will spike as
soon as I publish this, just to spite me.)

  • I actually had a related problem with an AMD processor last year

(which is why I had the thermal paste.) I should have learned my
lesson: buy nothing bigger than a Pentium II. Any speed gains from
the speedier processor are more than consumed by the trouble of
getting the faster one not to burn up.

  • I have a newfound respect for the guys who immersed their entire

computer in cooking oil as a new form of liquid cooling. I’d link to
them, except that I don’t have a web browser. (I’m typing this at
the console. Did you think I was enough of a masochist to try to get
X11 working on this thing?)

  • I now have the urge to rig up the computer to send me an SMS message

if the CPU core temperature gets too high. I’m not sure what’s
worse: that I know how to do this, or that I am tempted to do so.

All in all, I’m amazed that there are so many Internet sites that
publish twenty-page articles comparing heat sinks or motherboards or
processors — or anything else that requires you to take apart and
reassemble the heatsink-mobo-processor combo more often than
absolutely necessary. (I mean, as far as unpleasant hobbies go, at
least being a fire-eater or a shock rocker gets you the chicks, right?
I am unaware of anyone, anywhere, of any gender, ever having been
seduced by a tricked-out PC.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

About Me

blog at barillari dot org Older posts at http://barillari.org/blog