Around Christmas time, I was taking it easy for a bit, browsing the web and such, and started drooling over Apple’s upcoming products – a new operating system, and of course increasingly fast and cool machines. I bought a 1.5 GHz G4 Powerbook in December 2005, to replace my 800 MHz G3 iBook that I bought in March 2003. I figured that graduating from grad school would be a nice time to get a new computer. I was thinking about getting a Macbook, or a Macbook Pro.
But Clare said:
Rob, you use your laptop like a desktop. I think you should get a desktop if you buy a new computer. You can still keep your laptop and use it when you travel, and I am sure you could devise some scripts to keep it synced up with your desktop
As usual, Clare had a good idea. So I started looking at Mac desktops. There are three distinct possibilities for Mac Desktops – the Mac Mini, the iMac, and the Mac Pro. The Mac mini is actually not as powerful as a Macbook, so that was a no-go. The iMac is not very expandable, and the Mac Pro is $2500. So I started looking into building my own, with the aim of building a Mac Pro for less money, and that is basically what I have done:
- Supermicro X7DBE Extended ATX motherboard
- Supports 2 dual-core and quad-core Intel Xeons
- Supports up to 32 Gigs of RAM (8 x 4 GB fully-buffered ECC DIMMs)
- 2 Gigs of RAM (2 x 1GB sticks)
- 2 2.66 GHz Intel Xeon processors with 667 MB front-side bus
- 2 320 GB Maxtor SATA hard drives
- I/O Magic dual layer DVD +/- RW burner with Lightscribe technology
- Antec Titan550 case
- Soundblaster Audigy SE sound card
Most things worked quite well from the get go. I was a bit worried when I realized that the processors had not come with fans, but rather with very large heat sinks. Cameron at cpnu, which is where I ordered most of the parts, got some fans for the processors and installed them for me. He also helped me install the processors, and connect some of the cables. I was a bit nervous when he couldn’t figure out which pin to connect the power cable to (for the power button), and so he just tried touching some pins with a screwdriver!! In hindsight though, he was completely right, that when you attach the cable, it simply makes a connection between the two pins. The BIOS booted up just fine at the store, and I took it home to try to install an OS.
Failures / Mistakes
Bought the wrong size case
I had bought a Antec Sonata II case at compusa, which is going out of business in Michigan, which is supposed to be a very nice and quiet case. Unfortunately, I had not realized that I had ordered a ridiculously large motherboard (not regular ATX, but extended ATX), so I needed a bigger case — thus the Titan550. So now I have an extra case.
Video card won’t fit in motherboard
I also have an extra video card, because the PCI express Nvidia GeForce 7300 card that I bought at compusa is form factor x16, and my motherboard only has up to x8. I hadn’t realized that there are multiple kinds of PCIexpress.
Never fear though. I have plans to upgrade this server with the new case and graphics card, which does fit this motherboard.
Sound card won’t work
The sound card is not working!!! This one is really frustrating. Hopefully once I get it working, I will be able to write more about it.
It has been somewhat fun, but I am not so sure if it is worth it. Though they cost more, the Mac is really nice. It just works. That being said, I am enjoying trying out other Linux features. I like multiple desktops. I like kmail, and I think Beryl looks cool (if I ever get it to work). And I have learned a lot so far. Expect much more on the new computer experience.