Athlon XP 1900+
came out with the Athlon, a sweet CPU, and I was stumbling
along with my K6-2/300, which had grown to a 350Mhz system
overclocked to ~400Mhz. But it was running out of steam. See
now, my original plan when building the K6-2 system was to
simply pop in a faster CPU when they became available. While
AMD did release the K6-III at up to 400Mhz, and the K6-2 processors
up to 550Mhz, neither was a big enough jump in speed for the
cost to interest me (a K6-III/400 was ~$140) . In that light,
the AMD K6-x solutions seemed to be at a dead-end. I eventually found a deal on a K6-III+ 450MHz, and upgraded to that (overclocked to 550MHz), but that was the end of the line for the K6.
course, AMD wasn't just giving up at the high-end, they positioned
the K6-x line as their "value processors," and released
their "7th generation" CPU, the Athlon. They did
it right, the Athlon is a very nice CPU, and I wanted
one. The problem is, you can't just remove the K6-2 chip and
plug in an Athlon, they use entirely different plug and electrical
configurations, like trying to plug a CD into a cassette slot.
(The K6-2 uses the "Socket 7" architecture, and
the Athlon uses "Slot A". Socket 7 is a square grid
while Slot A is a long thin connector).
So if I wanted to use the Athlon, I couldn't just pop in a
new CPU, I'd need to buy a new motherboard as well.
that's what I did. I wasn't too keen on spending the extra
money, but technology was moving on, and I didn't want to
be left standing at the station.
I purchased an Abit KA7 motherboard and an Athlon 700 "Classic"
that overclocked easily to 820+ MHz. That system did me well
for a year, and would still, but, one night, I had the notion
to tune it up a bit...
let me cut to the chase, if you fail to connect the CPU fan
to a suitable connector, the CPU first gets warm. Then it
gets hot. Then really really hot. And then, for seemingly
no reason at all, it becomes stone cold.
is a reason, of course. It's because in it's "really
really hot" phase it reverted to it's native
silicon in its overheated fury (i.e., It "Burned
Up"). Entropy, of sorts.
needed a new CPU.
AMD had come out with an upgrade to the "Classic"
with their "Thunderbird" CPU. (Thunderbird is the
code-name for the new processor. AMD officially calls it the"AMD
Athlon processor featuring performance-enhancing on-chip
L2 cache memory". Uh huh. I'll just go with "T-Bird",
thanks). Since it's much faster (more CPU cache, a faster
basic CPU design, higher clock speeds, etc.) for the same
price, it just made sense to replace my old smoldering CPU
with this new & better chip. Well, once again, there was
a catch. The T-Bird required (wait for it) ... yet another
new motherboard design.
just not the upgrade I'd planned.
Athlon Classic is largely a dead-end, the "Slot A"
architecture was replaced by the simpler and less-expensive
"Socket A". So, bullet clenched, I researched the
current motherboard market for a good socket motherboard.
There were a number of really good candidates out, and I decided
on an Iwill KK266. I coupled it with a new Athlon T-Bird 1.2Ghz/266
(FSB), and since have put in the XP 1900+ chip. This setup
is wicked fast, even compared to the Athlon Classic 700 it
replaced. Oh, in hopes to defer another CPU flameout, I clamped
on a Thermaltake
Volcano 7 CPU cooler, using some of the trendy Arctic
Silver thermal paste.
system name, "bubbler"
I name my system's on a "budda" theme, for no
solid reason outside of my interest in Asian lore. alexa's
system was called "baby-budda" because she played
games on it when she was a baby. My server is named "sitting-budda"
because I had it sitting in the living room at one point.
The non-work laptops also have variants on that scheme. So
calling this system "bubbler" deviates from my grand
plan, but ... so what? Now, where does "bubbler"
come from? I'm from Wisconsin, and water fountains (drinking
fountains) are called "bubblers". So naming my main
system bubbler feeds my blatant self-interest in my Wisconsin
heritage. But then again, maybe someday I'll switch over
and give merit to the name...
I burned up another CPU.
wasn't my fault this time. Really. In fact, it was because
I reseated the heatsink on the T-bird correctly, that
it subsequently smoked. No explanation, and it only underscores
that AMD CPUs, while speedy, get there by running hot hot
I'm replacing the CPU with another T-bird 1.2/266, but while
that's on the way, I decided to try an Athlon Duron processor
as a temporary replacement. The Duron is the same CPU, largely,
as the T-Bird, with less cache memory (but not a lot), and
lower speeds. But it's cheap. Dang cheap. I spent $34 for
a 750MHz Duron that I've mildly overclocked to 830MHz. Crazy.
The Duron's performance is less than the T-birds, but not
noticably in day-to-day work. Stability, however, has been
think it's because I've had two motherboards, three CPU's,
and any number of add-in cards on one install of Windows
98 that the system started coughing up errors, crashing, and
hanging. I'd boot and it'd complain about a program that somehow
exceeded it's bounds. Or I'd get hangs, even black screens.
I didn't think the hardware was the problem, heaven knows
I tweaked and tinkered with it enough. I figured the OS was
getting cranky after so many changes. And, CPU's that are
going up in smoke are known to do rude things to disks and
the data and OS files on them.
I did the 2nd most logical thing, I upgraded to Windows 2000.
Now, the first most logical thing is to format, reinstall
a clean Win98 system, then reinstall all of your apps. But
I've got a LOT of apps, and, simply, I didn't want to do that.
It's not just installing the things, it's configuring
them to how you want, registering them, and applying patches
and updates. It's a pain.
bolstered by a couple Tsingtao's,
I popped in my Win2K Pro CD, and let it go. After a couple
of hours, and a few more hours bringing in new drivers, updating
configs (you can never get away from that), the system's been
entirely stable. And, the Duron's fast, despite it's "meager"
Win2K seems good for now (I've run it since it first came
out on other systems, and I've always liked it, but I had
planned to keep one Win98 system at home). And the Duron is
dandy. I'll put the T-bird in when it arrives, but things
are going good as they stand right now.
The replacement T-Bird 1.2/266 came back in July, I swapped
it in, and all was well. I eventually built another system for Alexa from the Duron, more than enough for her.. AMD went
and upgraded their processors, now to the "Athlon
XP," with ratings going to 2100+, although these
are proving to be conservative, with the lower-clockspeed
Intel's higher-clockspeed Pentium 4's. These clock-wars are
getting old, fast. Maybe it's just time to get
rid of clocks altogether.
watching [the system] painfully crawl up to the point where
I could finally log in, I started probing around to see
what was the matter. It only took a few minutes to realize
-- my D: drive was... gone.
a 750MHz Duron's starting to look old now, and even
my treasured T-Bird is getting wimpy. But I'll stick to my
guns that the system's still far faster than I need, and I
think the next upgrade will be to a dual-XP system, when more
and better SMP mobo's are released, running DDR memory, with
a nVidia "GeForce 4 XP" video card, yadda yadda
with Windows XP out, I considered "upgrading." However,
I was a beta-tester, and while some features of XP were nifty,
overall the improvements from Win2K aren't "inspiring."
But mostly I'm opposed to the heavy-handedness I see from
Microsoft, with their product activiation schemes and relentless
push to have you sign up with MS Passport, etc. Granted a
guy who writes this much about his computers and family, and
posts it on the net isn't the most concerned about
privacy, but I don't like to have it taken away from me. I'll
hold off on XP, maybe see where Lindows
is going (vaporware,
road to RAID -- January 2002
Well, just before I took off to Oregon to visit family
for Christmas, I was (ohwaddasooprise) tinkering around on
my system one night. It started acting up, hanging for a bit,
apps flaking out, so on. So, this is Windows, and even though
it's Win2K, what's the first thing you do?
minutes later the system finally booted back up. Twenty minutes,
much of the time seemingly doing not a thing, and I was scratching
my head the whole while. After watching it painfully crawl
up to the point where I could finally log in, I started probing
around to see what was the matter. It only took a few minutes
to realize -- my D: drive was... gone.
partition my systems into a C: drive, with the OS and program
files on it. The D: drive is especially important, it holds
essentially all of my data, pictures, movie clips,
mp3s, email, websites (this on included), documents.... you
get the idea. About an hour later I'd downloaded and tested
my D: drive with IBM's Drive
Fitness Test (DFT). The DFT gave me the verdict: "The
drive is corrupted, it must be formatted to continue."
Yikes! Not one to take catastrophe at first pass, I ran DFT
a couple more times, only to get the same message. So I clicked
"Yes," and away it went.
format and subsequent verification took, oh, about 1/2 hour,
and in the end pronounced the drive broken, with an error
code I'd need to get this still-under-warranty drive RMA'd
by IBM. I jotted it down, cursed, and surfed again to IBM
to get an RMA via their web forms. I got it, but not without
a fight -- part of their web-processing asks if you ran DFT,
and if so, what was the error code? I put it in and the next
page proclaimed this an "Invalid Code" and dumped
me out. I eventually snuck around this by saying I didn't
run DFT, and it let me get my return number.
since I was leaving the next day, and it was getting mighty
late, I clicked over to newegg.com
(btw, you may be wondering how I was surfing on my broken
system. I wasn't, I was using my K6 server by this time) and
ordered two more disks, again IBM, one a 40G and one a 60G.
My idea was that I'd replace the 40G straight-away, and stuff
the 60G into the server so, in the future, between CD backups
I'd simply copy the Athlon's data over to the larger 60G drive
on the server "just in case". And, I had another
plan kinda-in mind that I'll talk about in a bit. (Oh, despite
the failure of this IBM drive, it's the first such failure
I've ever had with an IBM, so I decided to stay loyal).
drives arrived the day after we came back from Oregon, and
I did just what I planned, popping the 40G into the Athlon,
and the 60G into "Sitting-Budda", my server (the
Athlon's name, btw, is "Bubbler"). Then, over the
next week, I endured the pain of scraping together the latest
bits & pieces of my data from old CD's, and from my IBM
laptop (which, thankfully, had my most current email, although
I lost a lot of my older archives. Dang). Obviously I could
get my websites back by pulling them from their hosts, and
I that's just what I did.
I've been in the storage (high-end, arrays) for a long time
professionally. As you may or may not know, disk arrays, "RAID"
Array of Independent Disks) is a technology where groups of
small disks are arranged to work together and look to the
host as one larger disk. RAID offers many advantages and,
depending on configuration, they may work faster, become more
reliable, or both. The arrays we sell are spendy, and, again
depending on configuration, it would be cheaper to buy a new
LS 430, or even a couple Ferrari
550 Maranello's. Or a house in the Boise foothills, with
I was feeling bad about losing my data, but not that
the thing is, RAID 0 isn't redundant. In fact, if you stripe
two disks in RAID 0 you double the risk of data loss because
a failure in either drive results in complete data loss.
there are more reasonable alternatives for RAID controllers,
many of which cost less than the cupholder in my Volvo
($125. It's plastic. But it's genuine Volvo Plastic).
during my tear-filled week sorting through CD's and lost data,
I poked around to see reviews of PC-based RAID controllers.
What I was looking for was simple: a low-cost controller for
Bubbler (remember? the Althon system's name) that would let
me stuff two disks working as a RAID
1 array. If you didn't follow the link (or even if you
did and for some reason thought it was a good idea to come
back here), simply put, RAID 1 is known as "mirroring."
Mirroring is a technique where, in a simple example with two
disks, the array controller writes the same data to each
disk all the time. The disks are then identical copies.
Write that letter to mom and save it? It's on both disks.
Download an mp3 of "Sinnerman"? One copy is on each
disk. Invent a cure for cancer and write it down? Saved twice,
one on each disk.
astute readers will realize this provides, essentially, a
continuous backup. Both drives get the same data, all the
time. And, should one drive fail, the other will continue
to spin merrily along, with all of your data! (Actually, there's
no guarantee that both drives won't fail together -- if there's
a house fire, for example, and the entire PC gets bbq'd. Or
if some wacky government decides to try an EMP
experiment over your house. Or just Bad Luck, and both disks
simply fail at the same time. It can happen, although, with
of 500,000 hours or more, it'd have to be pretty-darn-bad
luck to have them both fail at the same time. I've
seen it happen, but not, of course, to me! If this
is what happens to you then you probably have bragging rights
to a couple
of lightning strikes, or the little old lady you let skip
ahead of you in the supermarket line bought your winning
lottery ticket. If your luck's like that, redundancy's the
least of your problems. Build a bomb-shelter,
and stay in it).
was I going with this...?
yeah, so RAID 1, which is the simplest redundant RAID level,
provides protection by duplicating data to 2 or more mechanisms
(you can have a bunch of 'em, but 2 provides pretty good protection).
Now, having duplicate data isn't much good if you can't get
to it, but even, ah, inexpensive PCI/IDE RAID controllers
let your system continue happily along by taking the failed
drive offline, and using the good one. Seamless. And these
el-cheapo controllers generally ship with monitoring software
that tells you (pop up on your screen, or email, SMTP, so
on) when one mech fails. This is good because once you lose
one disk, you're vulnerable to complete data loss should the
second disk fail at some point. So you want to replace a failed
mech as soon as possible, tell the RAID controller to copy
all the Good Data to it, then use it in RAID 1. Safe again.
even more-astuter readers will be thinking, "Yeah, but
if everything's duplicated, don't you lose a lot of disk space?"
Yep, in the case of two disk RAID 1, you get only half the
total space. Two 40G drives together total 80G. But put 'em
in RAID 1? 40G total. Such is the penalty for redundancy (although
other RAID levels, such as RAID
5 spread the redundancy among disks in a different way,
and a simple RAID 5 system with 5 disks effectively loses
only 1 disk to redundancy (80% efficient). But I don't need
5 disks, or even three, and RAID 5 controllers cost more.
Today you can pick up a 60G 7200 RPM disk for $115, so the
cost of "wasting" one full disk to redundancy isn't
went with the IWill
SIDE-100 RAID card, capable of RAID
0, RAID 1, and RAID
0+1 with up to four IDE "Ultra ATA/100" disks.
FWIW, RAID 0 seems to be what most "PC enthusiasts"
use because you can get better performance and don't lose
any space -- the disks are "striped" together and
two 40G disks give you a fast 80G drive. Even the manufacturer
of the RAID chip (HighPoint) only uses RAID 0 when showing
performance comparison graphs to convince you their chip's
got it goin'. What's not to like about RAID 0? Why didn't
I go with it then? Remember, my goal was data protection:
I didn't like losing years of data nor the hassle of piecing
it back together. But the thing is, RAID 0 isn't redundant.
In fact, if you stripe two disks in RAID 0 you double
the risk of data loss because a failure in either drive
results in complete data loss. Bummer. RAID 0+1 solves this
by striping & mirroring the data, giving you fast
access with redundancy. But, everything's a tradeoff, and
RAID 0+1 requires a minimum of four disks to work. I don't
want to spend the money on what, to me, is a minor speed boost.
Besides, I don't have enough disk slots in my case for all
those drives. The IWill provides an additional safety feature,
one that I didn't use. You can configure a RAID 1 array with
two drives, but hang a third drive on the controller
that, well, essentially does nothing most of the time. The
third drive is a "hotspare," a spare disk that the
controller will automatically bring on line should one of
the two main drives fail. That way, the array automatically
rebuilds redundancy and doesn't leave you with the possibility
of having the other drive fail until you can swap in a new
drive for the failed one. That's a good idea, but I don't
want to spend the additional bucks, and I feel pretty safe
with just the two. See? RAID has all kinds of safety hooks!
changed my plan, slightly, from the original. Idecided I wanted
more space, so with the new 40G & 60G drives, I bought
yet-another drive, another 60G. I coupled the SIDE-100 RAID
card with the two 60G drives, mirrored them, and copied all
my data from the 40G to the new array. I put the 40G into
the server (a couple times -- it matters which way
the IDE cable plugs into the motherboard) and was done with
now, I'm redundant and happy about it. The software that comes
with the IWill controller seems fine. Perhaps a bit unpolished,
but it provides notification upon failure of a mech. I tried
to set it up to send me email, but doing so and pressing "Test"
pops up an error box that it didn't work, and I've never gotten
any email. There doesn't seem to be anyway to troubleshoot
it, but I'll keep tinkering.
I ran SISandra on the array to see what kind of performance
I'd get. Technically, a RAID 1 array should give better read
performance because the controller only needs to read from
one of the disks, and if it's smart, it picks the one that's
closest to the data (or, in practice, tells them both to get
the same data and simply takes it from the disk that gets
there first). IWill's documentation claims "Improved
performance over single disks due to advanced and proprietary
seek algorithms", or some such, so I was enthused to
see how it panned out.
The Sandra RAID 1 score was just over 23K. On par with a standalong
disk, perhaps a bit slower (I admit I didn't take the time
to test the new 60G IBM standalone, but my old 40G once measured
over 28K in Sandra). I believe the lack of performance increase
is in part due to the fact that the RAID functions for this
card are actually done in software, in the card driver.
So there's overhead. "Real" RAID products are hardware-based,
and you can buy them for PC's for a few hundred dollars. I
didn't care about that, and the IWill lists for around $75,
but I got it for $50. Dedicated hw working on your RAID is
faster than pushing the job off onto the OS. But the IWill
serves my purposes.
update, summer 2002
well, it seems not "good enough" is how it turned out to be. I dumped the RAID card, and moved to one Western Digital 120GB disk. See the current system's specs here. why? Well, another IBM drive failed, and I found the RAID card was just user un-friendly in managing actual failures. several times the RAID card reported "a" disk failure, but nothing I could find in the software or BIOS for the card told me which drive had the problem. I had to flip a coin, and after a while I decided to: 1) Get rid of all the IBM drives, and 2) Get rid of the RAID card until I could get one that not only reported problems, but gave you some idea how to fix them.
Also, in the interim I changed motherboards, and the new one came with a built-in RAID, but I wound up using that just as an extra EIDE controller, and after THAT motherboard blew up (I believe I didn't fully seat a memory chip and fried a regulator supplying memory) I moved to YAMB ("Yet Another MotherBoard"), an ASUS K7N8X that didn't have RAID built-in. Oh, and between that I simply gave the RAID controller to a friend.
I'll move back to RAID at some point, but I just wasn't happy with the one I had. So I'll wait. In the meantime I back up a lot more.
And the information about my upgrades above is now old, I continually move to the next level as I see fit (I never buy the "latest" technology, always one or two generations back. I used to, but the cost is always too high, and it doesn't last. Currently if you buy two generations back on AMD CPUs you'll pay a third of the cost of the cutting-edge, and the cutting-edge is perhaps 20% faster. Doesn't make much sense, but it took me a lot of years to realize that!) So, for my current specs, go here. It's probably where you came from anyway...