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 Bubbler, AMD updated 02-02-2008

This is my old, but beloved system, the last in the line of "bubblers" to use an AMD CPU. It all started many years ago with the first "bubbler," now long gone...

 
 

"bubbler" (Athlon version) - Homebuilt Athlon XP 2500+ @ 2.4GHz

My Athlon 2500+ system, FrontAthlon 2500+ Side This is was (deprecated now in favor of my new system) my main system, and is one in a growing line of systems I've built, all using AMD processors. (In 1990 I had a local company build a 486/33MHz system, 104MB disk, and a "full" 1MB of memory for ... $3,000. How times have changed). My present system is actually an upgrade beginning with my first home-built K6-2/300 system. But not at all the upgrade path(s) I'd planned (read more...)

Here are the system specs on bubbler (detailed specs here)

I upgraded the CPU from an Athlon XP 1700+ to the current Athlon "Barton" 2500+. I only gained 300-400MHz in speed, but the Rule-Of-Thumb on the Bartons is, due to the increased cache size (512KB vs. the previous 256Kb), the CPU "acts" about 300MHz faster. So the combo means I gained about 600MHz in processing power. Good enough. I plan to move to a 64bit system soon, but I'm in no rush, and that only means the prices will drop while I'm not "rushing." I recently upgraded to 1GB of RAM. I can't really say it makes a difference, but's it's cool to have a gigabyte of RAM. I worked in the computer industry long enough to have seen entire computer centers with half that...

I, uh, "upgraded" the system to Windows XP Pro from Win2K pro. Bad Move. I miss my old Windows 2000. XP is, to put it nicely, "quirky," and slow. It wants to do what it wants to do, changing configs or behavior at random ... "user be damned". But reinstalling back to Windows 2000 isn't something I'm open to since it would take me weeks to get my apps installed and configured again. Blame the silly windows "architecture" of using a global registry on that. Whoever at MS thought this was a good idea is probably flipping burgers today...

I bought Nvidia's 6600GT to replace my ATI video card. I didn't like the ATI card, much. The 6600GT is a "budget card" (if you can say $240 is really "cheap), but it works wonderfully, and I can play Doom 2 with most of the enhancements. quite happy with it.

On that, with the addition of the 6600GT card, I found that my system would fight me to power up ("Go ahead Dean, push my power button, see what that's gonna get you!") When I did it would power up, a few fans would start spinning, maybe a beep or two, then ... silence. It would sometimes take 15 or more tries to get it to power up and stay up. I decided I'd run the old 350W to it's limit and was "underfeeding" my system. So I bought the Enermax 485W supply that solved the problem, and is quieter.

Monitor
HP f2304 23" LCD MonitorThe HP f2304 23" LCD monitor deserves special recognition. Not cheap, of course, but HUGE, with 1920x1200 native resolution. I just love it! I AM ticked that the current discount price is LESS THAN 1/2 the price I paid, but such is buying at the "state of the art..."

Errata
I started with an HP CD burner, and it was perfect. But, at 4x speed, my eyes started to roll back waiting for a burn to complete. So, I subsequently went through a disturbing number of low-cost-high-speed CD burners, but they all exhibited "flakiness" (hangs, bad burns). Eventually I picked up the Sony DVD burner for real money. It burns in both "DVD-" and "DVD+" formats, as well as CDs. And it's been splendid. In this case, you get what you pay for. I use it for backing up, archiving data, recording music CDs, and MP3s. I'll use it to burn video DVDs at some point, I imagine. I also have the Creative DVD as a secondary, just because.

Due to a clumsy screwdriver slip, I destroyed my last motherboard and replaced it with the nvidia nforce2-based Abit NF7-S motherboard. It's a wonderful, and incredibly stable motherboard, that overclocks very well. The board provides, in addition to the standard IDE connections, two SATA (Serial ATA) connectors. I decided to try the SATA converter to drive my Western Digital disk, and getting rid of the 80 wire IDE ribbon cable in place of the SATA thin wire is great, plus performance is improved (largely due to limits in the current nforce2 IDE drivers). I later bought a 2nd disk, a 2nd SATA converter, and cable and configured it to RAID 1 to protect my data (the data is mirrored -- copied exactly -- on both drives, so if one should fail, the other still retains the data). Like all products of this low-cost, it's hardly a substitute for a real RAID controller/array, but it's cheap insurance, and works pretty well (Numerous times now it's announced that an "event" has occurred, and went into a rebuild, but didn't give me any more information than that -- such as which disk failed. Somewhat disconcerting). However it works, it's fast and easy, and protects my data. mostly recommended. I added another disk (IDE/ATA) as a semi-dedicated swap drive. Seems "snappier" as a result, those head-seeks eat up performance...

The HP all-in-one fax/scanner/printer/copier I just got is AMAZING! THat's all I've got to say, go buy one yourself...

The Logitech keyboard and mouse deserve some mention, if for no other reason that I spent a lot of money on the way to finding them (I like "input devices!"). I selected them because they were cordless, they let me pick up the keyboard and put it in my lap without getting cables tangled or pulled, and I'm not always tugging at the mouse to get some slack in the cable. Since they use RF instead of infrared you don't have to make it a point to aim them at the receiver, or worry that some desktop-clutter will block the signal -- a very real concern for me! :-)

I installed an in-case multi-card reader from "ATechFlash" that supports all kinds of flash media (compact flash, SD cards, MMC, SmartMedia (SM), and so on) . Pop a card in and it looks just like another harddrive, so you can drag & drop picture files (if you want -- I use the supplied Casio "photoloader" utility that nicely loads, indexes, and displays slideshows of the photos you've taken just by popping the card into it, or putting the Casio EX-Z57 camera into it's USB dock). It's USB 2.0 so it's fast, and supports my 128MB & 512MB Lexar JumpDrive USB "disks". Very handy.

The Logitech camera is pretty good, but not nearly as good as my old Philips cam, although this one cost more. But you can't buy the Philips cams anymore, so I went with the best one I could find. It has nice features though (although the SW kinda stinks, Logitech is not a grand SW company). It has a "face tracking" feature that will turn the cam up around and down to watch you. But honestly, it kinda messes up, and sometimes just points to the wall when confused!

I'm not afraid to admit that I loved the performance of the Vantec Aeroflow C7040 CPU fan I had in here. But I was tired of the noise, even though it was relatively quiet (compared to comparable performance coolers). I replaced it with the Thermaltake "Big Typhoon" cooler and it's even cooler now, AND it's a lot quieter. That's due to the unusual design -- the 120mm fan makes little noise but blows a lot of air through the large heatsink (did I say "large?" Uh, HUGE is more like it, I think it could double as a car radiator). The loudest fan in the system is now on my video card, but the system's quiet enough and stable.

Last, Boise is still somewhere in the 70's when it comes to power stability (but getting better). It's raining? Good for a power fail or two. Wind? Better switch off a grid for a minute. So on. I got tired of the lights-outs and instability, so I sprung for a TrippLite OmniSmart UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). I plug my main system in it and ... that's that. Haven't had a power fail on the CPUs since. I bought the TrippLite because it had a lot of capacity for the dollar, but it's still minor league -- real UPS's spin their own power from gas generators and hold a charge with a ton of batteries. But my little system will keep my system running for 10 or 15 minutes. Yep, not much, but almost all of our power fails are a couple minutes. So it works. (It also sends me an email when we have a power fail. Gives me a scare when I'm at work, but it's kind of fun).

A sad tale of "near obsession"...
I'm somewhat of a "freak" when it comes to data security/integrity, hence the RAID 1 system (I ramble on about data protection and backup here). I backup my key files/directories to my server, but what if a fire breaks out and all my systems turn into puddles of plastic and steel? So I bought a USB 2.0 3.5" (and 2.5") enclosure, populated the 3.5" with a 120GB drive I had sitting around, and backup that key data to it. Then, I put the USB drive in an airtight bag, and lock it in a fireproof safe. Short of nuclear war, I'm protected. I hate losing data. And yes, I'm sick. But knowingly so...

Summary...
I like this system, and I'm happy with the performance. I wouldn't mind another GHz-or-2 of CPU power, but running an Athlon XP "Barton"2500+ processor at over 2.4GHz is pretty fine. Further, running my memory at over 200MHz FSB (412MHz actually, given that it runs at "double data" rates) is a great boost to performance, and that can be the bottle-neck now (although the Barton's 512MB on-chip cache helps a lot). No sense having a fast CPU that has to sit around waiting for data. When prices come down, my next upgrade will be either a dual-core processor, Intel or AMD, or the AMD 64-bit CPUs. Due to the large size of the dual-core die, they downgrade the "GHZ" of these chips, affecting forefront applications (e.g., your rendering a Photoshop image will take longer because the chip is slower unless, of course, other efficiency improvements such as faster memory or improved pipelining or increasing parallelism. However, where dual-core shines is in multi-tasking, doing things both in the foreground and background, or splitting a task that uses more than one processor ("core") simultaneously. An interesting "real-world" review of the benefits can be found here. To top that off, I might throw in a couple "NCQ" disks to alleviate the ever-present disk bottlenecks (reorganizing seek order to improve access speed). technology on the rise, Always on the rise...