The McBroom Family LAN

last updated 01-Jan-2003

 

Homebuilt Athlon 1800 XP

Upgrades:

Function: Client PC, primary gaming platform.

OS: Win 98 SE

 

Homebuilt Athlon 1.4 GHz

  • AMD Athlon 1.4 GHz processor (Thunderbird)
  • PC Chips M-810LR MATX motherboard
    • 266 MHz front-side bus
    • SiS 24-bit sound onboard
    • 10/100 Fast Ethernet NIC onboard
    • v. 90 modem onboard
    • AGP video (4x) onboard
    • 4 x USB ports onboard
  • 1 Gigabyte RAM (PC-133 syncDRAM)
  • 1 x 80 Gb Western Digital HD, 1 x 65 Gb Western Digital HD
  • 1 x 10.6 Gb Quantum HD (offsite backup)
  • Polaroid BurnMax40 CD-R/W drive (40 -12-40x, burnproof)
  • EPO 16-32 x DVD-ROM drive
  • Sony 3-1/2 Floppy
  • ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon video (32 Mb)
    • 125-channel CATV tuner
    • s-video and composite A/V input
    • real-time hardware MPEG codec
    • hardware DVD playback
  • CyberAcoustics 3-piece 60 Watt speakers/subwoofer
  • 4-port Belkin OmniView KVM switch (shared device)
  • H-P Laserjet 1100 printer (shared device)
  • cable modem (shared device)
  • 19" Magview (Proview) monitor (1600 x 1200 @ 32-bit) (shared device)
  • Kenwood 50 watt/channel stereo reciever
  • KLH model 911b mini-bookshelf speakers
  • Technics SL-D2 phono turntable
  • Pioneer CT-604WS dual cassette deck
  • Sony SL-HF860D Super Betamax Hi-Fi VCR
  • Sony CCD-V110 8mm camcorder
  • Emerson VHS Hi-Fi VCR
  • Olympus C-3040 digital camera
  • Viking USB CardReader (SmartMedia/CompactFlash)
  • RCA 6-port A/V switch

Function: Client PC. My primary platform for digital audio and video, CAD, and graphics processing. My backup for everyday web browsing and e-mail, plus a full suite of office and reference 'ware, too.

OS: Windows 98 SE (primary), Win NT Workstation 4.0 (on separate swappable HD)

    Notes: a homebuilt system based on a bare-bones kit from e-Bay reseller C&K Computers. Case, motherboard w/ Athlon 1.4, and 128 Mb of RAM sells for $250.. how could I resist, at that price? :-) The ATI All-In-Wonder provides solid A/V connectivity, and the full Gb of RAM really makes it all scream. All told this is 'bout as state-of-the-art as it gets ca. Fall of 2001; considering the bottom line of $896 as configured, it's proof that computing capability needn't cost an arm and a leg.

 

H-P Pavilion 9694C

  • 1/2 tower case
  • AMD Athlon 800 MHz
  • 128 Mb RAM
  • 40 Gb Maxtor HD
  • 6x DVD-ROM drive
  • CD-R/W drive, H-P / LG 8083B (4-4-24 x)
  • 3-1/2 Floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • 10/100 Ethernet
  • 16 Mb 3D Video
  • Lucent DSL modem
  • Conventional 56K modem
  • Polk stereo speakers

Upgrades:

  • RAM- 256 Mb total
  • 45 Gb Western digital HD (addition, for 85 Gbs total. PC boots from this drive)
  • 4-port USB hub
  • 19" Magview (Proview) monitor (1280 x 1024 @ 24-bit) (shared device)
  • Cable modem (shared device)
  • 4-port Belkin OmniView KVM switch (shared device)
  • H-P Laserjet 1100 printer (shared device)
  • Koss 2-piece amplified speakers (shared device)
  • Hi_Val CD-R/W (24-10-40x, burnproof, replaces OEM 4x writer)
  • H-P 4300cse scanner

Function: Client PC

OS: Windows 98 SE

    Notes: Main client PC. Primary platform for e-mail, web browsing, general all-around household computing.

    (6-10-00) So far, I am most favorably impressed with this PC. Compared to the Presario 4814, itís a real speed demon. Nothing illustrates this better than the encoding of MP3 files. Using the same software (CD-ex v. 1.20 with the Blade encoder plug-in) to encode a 3-minute test file in 44.1 kHz, 160 kb/sec VBR, 16-bit stereo MP3 took 14 minutes with the P2 / 233 MHz machine, but just 42 seconds with this machine! Yee-haw!

    (6-12-00) Almost as impressive is this machineís ability to multi-task while burning a CD-R/W disc. Iíve just successfully burned a disc while running not one but two CD-ex MP3 encoding sessions, copying 300+ Megs of data to another node on the LAN, not to mention running my e-mail client and browser. ( ! )

 

IBM Aptiva 2137-E16

  • mid-tower case
  • Cyrix/IBM P166 processor
  • 16 Mb RAM
  • 2.1 Gb HD
  • 20x CD-ROM
  • 3-1/2 Floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • ATI Rage Pro 3d video w/ 4 megs VRAM
  • Crystal Sound audio
  • Stereo speakers (standalone)
  • 33.6k fax/modem

Upgrades:

  • RAM- 512 Mb total
  • Samsung 10mbs Ethernet card
  • 13.6 Gb Maxtor HD (replacement)
  • 4.0 Gb Seagate HD (addition)
  • H-P 9310i CD-R/W drive (10-4-32 x)
  • Modem software upgrade to 56k v.90 specs
  • Lexmark Z-11 photo-quality printer
  • 19" Magview (Proview) monitor (1024 x 768 @ 24-bit) (shared device)
  • Cable modem (shared device)
  • 4-port Belkin OmniView KVM switch (shared device)
  • H-P Laserjet 1100 printer (shared device)
  • Koss 2-piece amplified speakers (shared device)

Function: Client PC.. sort of a "Guest computer", and my vehicle for playing old DOS games

OS: DOS 6.22/Win 3.1 (primary), Win 98 SE

    Notes: I bought this PC on e-Bay for $50, mainly 'cause I like the Aptiva case design.. and I always had such good luck with the other 2137-E16, which I gave to Bobby. I originally planned to gut it and upgrade it. However, the 2137-E84 proved flaky, so I decided to put this E16 into service pretty much as-is. It works good, too!

 

e-Machines 533idz

  • 1/2 tower case
  • Intel Celeron 533 MHz processor
  • 64 Mb RAM
  • 15.0 Gb HD
  • 8x DVD-ROM drive
  • Intel video w/ 8 Mb VRAM
  • 56k fax/modem
  • integrated sound
  • 3-1/2 Floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • 19" Proview monitor
  • Cable modem (shared device)
  • H-P Laserjet 1100 printer (shared device)

Upgrades:

  • RAM- 192 Mb total
  • D-Link 10/100 Ethernet NIC
  • Polk Audio mini stereo speakers
  • H-P Deskjet 630 printer

Function: client PC

OS: Win 98 SE

    Notes: When I inherited the maintenance duties on this PC, it was extremely slow and flaky. Upping the RAM to 192 Mb helped, but it remained flaky; prone to temporary freezes and outright lock-ups. Obviously a cluttered and trashy Windows setup; not unusual at all since the machine had been in use for about 2 years. With characteristic hubris I says to meself "No problem, I'll just ignore that silly OEM Restore Disc and do a fresh, clean Win 98 SE install." Famous last words.. :-/

    To make a long story short, installing Win 98 SE on this machine was a nightmare. Windows setup did not recognize the sound, video, or modem. I guess I should feel lucky that basics like IDE, PCI, and USB were supported. Anyway, the machine booted to that incredibly ugly 8-color VGA that results from an unrecognized video card, and then the real fun started.

    This was my first real experience with an e-Machine, and all I can say is that I'm amazed that the company manages to stay in business. Their web site is very unfriendly and flaky. They seem to post discrete drivers only when absolutely necessary. There were a couple of Win 2k and Win XP drivers, but nothing for Win 9x. They obviously put a lot of faith in the OEM Restore Disc they ship with the computer, and if you choose not to use it, you're damned well on your own, as far as they're concerned.

    Visiting the sites of the component vendors proved fruitless. While I turned up several likely driver candidates, not a one actually worked. Curse you, e-Machine!

    An exhaustive Hotbot search turned up a rogue BBS which caters to e-Machines, and I managed to find everything I needed there. However, it is a user-supported site, with users invited to upload individual drivers, so the quality of the 'wares varies greatly. I got lucky in the case of the video, and it worked on the first try. However, I tried 3 different drivers before I got the modem working. And I installed no less than five sound drivers before I got it operational!

    'twas an educational experience, to say the least. I have, to my chagrin, occasionally recommended e-Machines in the past to folks who were shopping for a low-priced PC. Given the phenomenally inept support I encountered during this project, I will in future counsel such users to avoid e-Machines at all costs.

 

Computer Warehouse, Inc. 486/66

  • mid-tower case
  • Intel 486/66
  • Cirrus logic video w/ 1 Mb (1024 x 768)

Upgrades:

  • RAM- 32 megs total
  • 420 Mb HD
  • 3-1/2 floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • 20x IBM CD-ROM
  • I/O Magic 16-bit sound card
  • Modem Blaster 14.4 modem
  • Samsung 10mbs Ethernet card

Function: Currently semi-inactive, I plan to make this my primary Linux machine in the future.

OS: Win 95

    Notes: CWI is a local (Memphis) clone-builder. I almost bought a new PC from them around the time this PC was the latest and greatest, but decided to hang with the old 386 a while longer. This one was given to me in exchange for fixing a co-workerís non-booting Win 9x box. It was basically just a case & motherboard, with video card. All other components came out of my misc. junk/spare parts cache, except the CD-ROM drive, which was new. Quite a competent PC, considering itís the minimum configuration for Win 98. No, itís no speed-demon, but neither will you fall asleep at the keyboard. Not quite... <grin>

    (7-31-00) My daughter, Dana, used this system as her bedroom PC for about 6 months, and we never had any problems with it. Its inability to play MP3 files was the main drawback for her. <grin> In any case, I passed it along to my youngest sister, and it became her first PC. The above info indicates its hardware configuration at the time I gave it to her. I did reformat the HD and install a fresh copy of Win 95, in the interests of saving disk space (a full-featured Win 95 install takes up < 25 Megs vs. 100+ Megs for a minimum Win 98 install!). As of this writing Iíve only received one tech-support call from my sister, so weíre doing good!

    (1-3-03) I built my sister a new PC for Christmas (an H-P Vectra VL5, a P166/MMX machine), and so reinherited this ol' girl. The Tripplite 250va UPS which was part of the original package fried at some point, so my sis had the whole system packed away, thinking it was dead, too. When I got it home and tested it out, everything worked fine, with the exception of the CD-ROM drive (a 32x Memorex). Ironically, that drive was the most up-to-date piece of hardware in the whole PC! It was less than 2-1/2 years old. I've had such bad luck with Memorex drives that I will never buy another.

 

AST Bravo 486/50

  • Desktop case
  • Intel 486/50 DX2
  • 16 Mb RAM
  • 212 Mb HD
  • 3-1/2 floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • 5-1/4 floppy, 1.2 Mb
  • Cirrus logic onboard video (1024 x 768)
  • generic 14" SVGA monitor (800 x 600)
  • Novel 2000 NIC

Upgrades:

  • 20x CD-ROM drive (replaces 5-1/4 floppy)
  • Samsung 10mbs Ethernet card (addition, Cable modem requires 2 NICís in server mode)

Function: Dedicated Internet server (via Time-Warner Roadrunner)

OS: DOS 6.22 and Win NT Workstation 4.0 (primary)

    Notes: I donít quite know what to say about his box.. "plain vanilla" about sums it up, I think.

 


LAN upgrade diary

    8-19-99 Installed surplus P120 chip, a gift from a neighbor, in the Compaq Deskpro 590. Went real smooth! Thanks, neighbor!

    8-21-99 Added modem and sound card to Compaq Deskpro 590. Somewhat to my surprise, they installed on the first try with no problems at all.. remember, we are talking Windows NT here.

    3-15-00 Moved the LaserJet 1100se printer from the Compaq Deskpro 590 to the Aptiva 2137-E16. Though it worked fine as a local printer on the 590, I never could get it to work as a shared network printer under Win NT. On the Aptiva, it works fine and dandy as a network printer.

    4-29-00 (Presario 4814) replaced Philips CDD-3610 CD-R/W drive with a brand-spanking new H-P 9310i CD-R/W drive. This is a 10 x 4 x 32 unit, and installation was a snap. Alas, it is not supported by Adaptec Easy CD Creator Deluxe v. 3.5c, so Iím stuck with the bundled OEM version of Easy CD Creator. To my utter amazement, the old Philips CDD-3610 fetched $70 when auctioned off on e-Bay!

    6-2-00 to 6-5-00 Removed the IBM Aptiva 2137-E16. Reconfigured it as an early birthday gift / late wedding gift for my son Robert, and his wife Cassie. Removed 5-1/4 floppy drive. Pulled the old hard drives and installed an 8.4 Gb Western Digital along with a clean Win 98 install. Added an H-P 8250 CD-R/W drive (4 x 4 x 24) and a USB SmartMedia card reader. The latter works in conjunction with the Toshiba PDR-M1 digital camera, which was also part of the package. Yes, of course there was an ulterior motive in this gift. Namely, to insure that we get lots and lots of pictures of our granddaughter, Mikaela! <BIG grin>

    6-3-00 Added H-P Pavilion 9694C. Added RAM, second hard drive.

    6-6-00 (H-P Pavilion) cloned OEM hard drive to the Western Digital 45 Gb, thus making the WD the boot drive. The OEM Maxtor 40 Gb will be used as transient storage for graphics and digital audio. Added Lexar Digital Film Reader (USB SmartMedia reader) and 4-port USB hub.

    6-13-00 to 6-15-00 Removed the Computer Warehouse, Inc. 486/66. Reconfigured it as a Ďjust becauseí gift for my youngest sister, Esther. This is her first PC. Removed the Ethernet card. Reformatted HD and installed a clean copy of Windows 95. Added Panasonic KX-P1123 dot matrix printer, Realistic amplified stereo speakers, and Sony CDP-1304 monitor.

    8-3-00 Aptiva 2137-E84 arrived. Everything looks OK, and the initial shakedown looks promising! I then dropped in the Samsung Ethernet card and swapped in the hard drives retained from the 2137-E16. While I was able to get the machine to boot in safe mode, I wan not able to achieve a normal boot, despite many hours of tinkering.

    8-4-00 to 8-8-00 Gave up and installed Windows 98 on the Aptiva 2137-E84. The Maxtor 13.6 Gb is the primary (boot) drive, with the OEM 4.0 Gb Seagate being an auxiliary drive. Also moved the H-P 9310i CD-R/W drive (10x-32x) from the Presario to the Pavilion, thus allowing me to move the Pavilion's OEM 8083b drive (4x-24x) to the Aptiva. I've wanted to do that since we first got the Pavilion! I blanched to see that 10x drive sitting in the Presario, when the lightning fast Athlon 800 machine had only a 4x. This left the Presario with no CD-R/W drive, of course, so I popped in a 5-1/4 floppy drive to fill the hole. I haven't had a 5-1/4 floppy drive online for quite a while, so I hadda do it just out of principle.

    Loading Win98 on this machine was a real adventure. The install kept bombing out, with several different failure modes. After much testing, it turned out that the Samsung Ethernet card was the culprit. I had it in Plug-N-Play mode, which the Aptiva just did not like. Using the brute force method of resetting it to "jumperless" mode and assigning resources manually did the trick; Win98 installed perfectly on the very next go. When Plug-N-Play works, itís great. But when it doesnít, and that happens more than youíd think, itís a right bastard. In retrospect, this quite likely is why the machine wouldnít boot normally with the HDs in their original (2137-E16) configuration. Ah well, hindsightís 20/20. And, actually, Iím sure that Iíll be better served by a fresh Windows install.

    The next step after getting a clean, bare bones Win98 install was to clone the DOS 6.22 / Win 3.11 partition from the 2137-E16. This turned out to be incredibly easy. I used Partition Magic to make a suitably sized partition and copy the partition data over all in one go. Then I booted from a DOS floppy, typed sys c: and presto! Everything worked perfectly! I then installed Boot Magic, and that was that.

    8-15-00 to 8-26-00 Upon our return from El Paso, installing the H-P 5pse scanner along with its Symbios SCSI card was the first order of business. This turned out to be problematic. Always a finicky process (the H-P 5pse resulted in so many service calls that itís legendary among PC resellers), installing this hardware on the E84 bordered on the nightmarish. After the first couple of attempts failed, I researched it on the HP web site. I learned that the 5pse is not supported under Win98, only Win95. Incredible. H-P is not usually so shortsighted. But then given the track record of the 5pse, theyíd probably like to just forget it. (Though itís a great scanner, once you get it working!) Iíd been trying to install it using the realtime mode drivers, which do not require an IRQ. And which, I might add, worked like a charm on the Presario. In desperation, I tried using the normal mode drivers, and danged if it didnít work! Yippee! It wasnít quite as easy as that, mind you. It would boot only in safe mode at first, and in addition to the SCSI card and the scanner, an Unknown Device was detected. However, once I disabled this UD, all was well. Not elegant, but you takes what you can get!

    After that began the process of installing all my software on the Aptiva, and removing software and fine tuning the Presario in preparation for Dana taking it over. This part went well, with no problems whatsoever. To my amazement, even the Aptivaís Lucent Winmodem got along fine with my old DOS comm program, Telemate. I never was able to accomplish that with the 2137-E16.

    8-26-00 to 8-28-00 Installed 3dfx Voodoo 3 2000 PCI video card in the Aptiva 2137-E84. Sounds so easy. But in reality this was yet another nightmarish Ďadventureí. :-(

    The 3dfx wasnít the first card I tried, you see. I bought an ATI All-In-Wonder 128 PCI first. I wanted the video capture function, as well as the front-panel audio inputs. The TV function would be gravy, I figured. Plus, since the Aptiva uses an ATI chipset for its onboard video, replacing it with a spiffier ATI seemed to make sense. Wrong!

    I tried the installation a bunch of times on the 26th, and never did get it to work. The one lucky thing is that it proved easy as pie to re-enable the onboard video after the bombed installs. After installing the ATI card the system would autodetect it as a standard VGA card, per the installation instructions. However, at that point there was no way to add a video adapter or monitor. They did not appear on the Add Hardware menu! &*#$ed Wintel computers.. :-(

    The next day, I thought about trading the All-In-Wonder 128 for another card. But I really, really wanted the video capture feature, so I packed the PC off to CompUSA and ponied up $39 for "professional installation". The old dude working there proved to be real sharp, and after 3 hours of farting around he found some back door that let him add video card and monitor to the Hardware Profile. It worked! Pleased as punch, I took the PC home and hooked it up to my Proview PX-988. It autodetected the monitor, and all was well. I set the res to 1600x1200 w/ 32-bit color, and spent a happy half-hour playing with Photoshop, Graphics Workshop, and so on. The difference in performance was astounding! Then I rebooted for the first time and.. Disaster! No video at all. Rebooting to safe mode got me some incredibly ugly 16-color VGA, and Device Manager revealed that no video adapter or monitor was detected. Despite several hours spent tinkering with it, I had no luck in finding the old CompUSA dudeís back door. Double :-(

    The next day, incensed at having spent $39 +tax for an unstable installation, I returned the Aptiva to CompUSA. Only to find that the old wizard works only on weekends, and the young dufuses (dufii?) on duty had no idea how to make the thing work. This after having to get testy with them to even get them to look at it right away. Disgusted, I swapped the ATI for the 3dfx Voodoo 3 2000 PCI video card. Took that home and bingo! Perfect install first time! Or so it seemed.

    8-29-00 Upon getting some sleep, then enjoying the spiffy 1600x1200 32-bit color for a few hours next morning, I discovered that my scanner no longer worked. Triple :-( A little digging revealed that the Voodoo3 had commandeered the SCSI cardís IRQ. And that I was fresh out of IRQs. After verifying that IRQ sharing was turned on in the BIOS setup, I was left with two choices; try to get the scanners real-time mode drivers working again, or to disable something to free up an IRQ. Since Iíd already tried the first, repeatedly, I disabled COM port 2, reinstalled the scanner drivers, and the scanner magically resumed normal operations.

    Yes, conventional wisdom says that with Plug-N-Play devices, and with IRQ sharing enabled, this last contretemps should not have happened. But itís common knowledge that not all devices play nice when it comes to IRQ sharing. Apparently, all the devices which could share IRQs already were. In retrospect, it seems likely that the lack of a free IRQ was the whole problem with the ATI All-In-Wonder video card. I donít know whether to call the ATI card dumb for itís inability to seize an IRQ, or the Voodoo3 rude for taking over the wrong IRQ. The former, I think, since it was relatively easy to understand and come to grips with that problem. Iím only a bit disappointed with losing COM 2. While I had planned on installing the power-management and monitoring software which came bundled with my UPS, and which requires COM 2 to work, I donít really need it.

    After a few hours of playing with the Aptiva, enjoying the stunning hi-res video, and including numerous reboots and scanning operations to verify the stability of the setup, I called it good. At that point I no longer needed the Presario 4814 for backup, and so we moved it into Dana's room.

    8-30-00 A strange, vexing problem with the Pavilion. (!) All of a sudden, I couldn't run Exact Audio Copy ("No ASPI Host Adapter Found"). A quick check showed that the ASPI drivers were in place. Then I noticed that the CD-R/W and DVD drives weren't even listed in My Computer. Whoa! Further poking around revealed that the CD-R/W drive was totally dead; the tray wouldn't even open. "Ah ha!", says I. After popping off the side cover and reseating the power connector for the CD-R/W drive, everything was back to normal. Flaky connector, apparently, which is not all that uncommon. It's happened to me a couple of other times. Still, on a PC this new, it's a real vexation!

    9-2-00 Conclusions about the Aptiva 2137-E84; Iím torn. Setting up the machine provided lots and lots of "interesting times". IOW, a Chinaman would say itís cursed. So is it indeed a "Friday computer"? Have I been soured on Aptivas? No, I donít think so. While itís true that the 2137-E16 never gave me even a fraction of the trouble that the E84 has thus far, I think that 90% of the problems Iíve encountered can be put down to quirky third-party peripherals.

    9-4-00 In a few key ways, the past three days have shown the E84 to be better than the E16 on a day-to-day basis. For one, the Winmodem handles DOS mode so well. That was a major drawback with the E16, given my ongoing involvement in Fidonet. Then, too, this E84 handles transitions to and from standby mode gracefully, something the E16 never could manage (though it was light-years ahead of the Presario!). Yes, the E84 has shown a tendency to become clunky and truculent when left to run MP3 encoding overnight, which the E16 never did. It doesnít crash, mind you. It will finish the task of encoding the MP3 files. But itís so lame and sluggish that an immediate reboot is mandated. In its defense, this in no way unusual for Wintel boxes. I suspect memory leakage. Itís a fairly speedy booter (a minute 40), and the reboot does put things right, so itís no real hardship. I give the Aptiva 2137-E84 a thumbs-up! Great keyboard, the best case design in the business, and while its no Athlon 800, itís no slug, either. Indeed, itís noticeably perkier than the Presario 4814, more so than its 66 MHz clock speed advantage would seem to justify. And itís got a RAM disadvantage over the Presario! Time will tell, but for now, and considering the low, low monetary investment, itís difficult to see how I could have done better. Viva Aptiva.

    10-8-00 (Aptiva E-84) OK, I've had enough of the crashing, locking up, and just generally up and puking after a 4-hour thrashing with Graphics work, MP3 generation, CD burning, dl'ing, etc. Acts like funny RAM, despite the fact that it'll pass a 48-hour looping RAM test with IBM System Doctor. Pulled the 2 x 32 meg chips.. they are a matched set! Installed a 1 x 32 meg PNY chip that I know to be good.

    10-11-00 (Aptiva E-84) Been running 2 days.. slower, but system reliabilty does seem improved. A couple of 6-7 hour workouts as described above hasn't caused crashes or sluggishness.

    10-12-00 (Aptiva E-84) Replaced test RAM with 1 x 128 Kingston PC100 chip. Booted fine and system seems transformed. Menus are snappy, boot time's improved. Only had a chance to give it a 2-hour test drive, but left it running processes all night; dl'ing from Napster and converting a huge batch of WAV files to MP3.

    10-13-00 (Aptiva E-84) Machine's been up and running without a reboot (or a problem) for 26 hours. The difference is like night and day! The system is so much sweeter, it's hard to describe. Still has that "just booted" feeling, even after crunching MP3 files all night, then an early morning eMail session, followed by being left to run a batch 'net dl and more MP3 encoding while I was at work. Eureka!

    10-14-00 (Aptiva E-84) Machine ran some 50 hours and change without a reboot. And even then I locked it up by doing something stupid; trying to decode a MPEG file that I knew was damaged.. I pronounce the operation a success!

    05-01-01 (Pavilion 9694C) My old H-P scanner, the one which I moved heaven and earth to get working on the Aptiva, now refuses to scan in color. B&W scans are perfect, but no color. :-( I chose a Canon slimline scanner at Best Buy; the specs looked good, and since my space is limited, it seemed ideal. It's a USB-only unit, getting it's power via the USB port. This proved to be it's downfall, in my particular case, for despite several calls to Canon tech support, I never could get it functioning. Seems there's a bug in most all Athlon machines which prevents a (relatively) power-hungry USB device like a scanner from working. Cameras and keyboards and so on are fine, mind you, as are USB devices with their own dedicated power supply. Basically, the USB chipset used by 90% of Athlon machines just doesn't provide enough juice to power such a peripheral. Armed with this info, I returned the Canon and selected an H-P 4300cse. This unit sports both a parallel and a USB interface, and thus gets power from it's own wall-wart transformer. Setup was a piece of cake, and I'm happy with the results.

    05-25-01 (Compaq 4814) Removed machine from LAN. Dana took this machine to N. Illinois, and will use it as her "college PC". Removed 5-1/4 floppy drive, Ethernet card, swapped printers, gave the HD a spring-cleaning.

    06-12-01 (TcPC) Added to LAN. Added 5-1/4 floppy drive and Ethernet card.

    08-18-01 (H-P Pavilion 7920) Bought PC at Best Buy, added it to the LAN. Upgraded machine with 10/100 Ethernet card, and moved Canon BJC-250 printer from the TcPC to this box.

    09-07-01 Bought 3x 256 Mb PC133 RAM chips from TigerDirect.com for the spectacular price of $29.99 each. Alas, when I swapped two of them into the HP 9694C the machine became extremely flaky. It would boot, but almost immediately crash. Booting to safe mode and checking the system info told me that the RAM was being recognized, but the machine simply does not work. It may be a compatibility problem 'twixt the Athlon chipset and the cut-rate RAM (SimpleTech brand).. who knows?

    True to form, the Aptiva 2137-E84 accepted the RAM, and works just fine. Indeed, it screams now! Well.. compared to before. The difference is most notable with Photoshop. I loaded up a 22 Mb bitmap and did some editing to test it out. Saves were almost instantaneous, a big difference. Now I'm in the curious situation of having a 300 MHz K6-2 machine with 512 Mb of RAM, while my 800 MHz Athlon machine has only 256 Mb. :-) It may not seem like a logical upgrade, but, in practice, it worked out well. After all, the K6-2 needed more help than the Athlon...

    That left me with a spare 256 Mb chip, so I swapped that into the Pavilion 9720. It requires PC133 RAM, so it was a no-brainer. Doubling the RAM definitely perked it up! This leaves me with 2 spare 128 Mb RAM chips, of course, one PC100 and one PC133. I suppose I'll swap the PC100 chip into the TcPC when I get a round tuit...

    09-28-01 to 10-01-01 Built AMD Athlon 1.4 GHz system.. actually, I built two, one for my buddy Shelton Bridges. Assembly went smooth, other than a bizarre problem with the floppy, where a tool-long screw bound it up when bolted into the case. Oh, and the ATI All-In-Wonder video card was a bit challenging to get operational.

    10-05-01 to 10-08-01 Consolidated 3 systems (Homebuilt Athlon 1.4 GHz, H-P Pavilion 9694C, and IBM Aptiva 2137-E84) into the main computer workcenter. All run through a Belkin Omniview 4-port KVM switch, allowing me to control them with one keyboard, video, and mouse. All in all, a sweet system!

    12-26-01 Installed an SMC 5-Port 10BASE-T/100BASE-TX Dual-Speed Ethernet Switch on the main 'loop' of the LAN (i.e. all the 'puters installed in my main workstation, aka the Star Trek Command Center.. [grin]). This lets the Athlon machines speak to each other at 100 Mb/Sec instead of the previous 10. It smokes! In tests, a transfer of 1/2 Gbabyte of data takes a minute 18 to 1:22, depending on individual file sizes. Formerly I could grab a sandwich followed by a smoke during a transfer like that! So that the entire loop could talk at 100 MbS, I yanked the old Samsung (Realtek) Ethernet 10T NIC from the Aptiva 2137-E84, and replaced it with a spiffy new SMC 100BASE-TX card in the PCI format.

    Of course, the cable modem is limited to 10BASE-T, so there's no need to upgrade that loop of the LAN. Indeed the cable modem could never keep up with a 10 MbS data stream in the first place, and so the AST/Bravo RR server needs only 10BASE-T. The 'slow' loop of the LAN also includes the lines to the outlying bedrooms. There's a slow machine in Dana's room at the moment, so that's no sweat. It is kind of a shame to have Janice's H-P Pavilion 9720, with it's D-Link 10/100 NIC, using the 10BASE-T mode, but then there's rarely a need shovel massive amounts of data 'tween her machine and mine.

    All in all, at $54 including tax, perhaps the most cost-effective upgrade I've ever accomplished. As the price of switches continues to drop, they make much more sense than a hub. ** Indeed, I expect they'll soon be in the under-$30 commodity range soon, along with USB hubs.. I may just upgrade the remainder of the LAN then, merely out of principle. As usual, upgrading the little IBM Aptiva was like fallin' off a log.. indeed, the whole project was like a walk in the park. Now, my current consulting project, building a dual-NIC WinNT 4.0 machine for use as a buddy's RR server.. well, that's another story.. :-/

    ** A word on hubs vs. switches- the best analogy that can be made, perhaps, is comparing each node of a LAN which relies on conventional hubs to a radio reciever, while a LAN which uses a switch becomes more like a line-of-sight microwave repeater. Hubs distribute a broadcast signal, while switches aim a targeted signal. Now, granted the huge increase in local-node throughput I've seen is due to the fact that I'm using the newer 100BASE-TX equipment, period, not that it's a switch vs. a hub. But switches are a more efficient solution, and can help immensely in a heavily-populated LAN where packet collisions are routine. [shrugs] They appeal to my inner Dilbert. :-) Plus, at the miniscule price difference, why bother with a hub? There was a time when packet switching technology was prohibitively expensive for a home user, but those days are no more! In short, always go for the Ethernet switch over the hub!

    12-27-01 My latest computer addition is also my latest audio acquisition; a pair of KLH model 911B mini-bookshelf speakers for the computer center. Seemed a waste having that 100-watt amp in there & no speakers hooked up to it. The little KLH's are rated for 100 watts, 80 Hz to 20 KHz +/- 1 DB. They sound amazingly good for as small as they are. And at $10 for the pair (after rebate) you certainly couldn't beat the price! Got to love those after-Christmas Blowout Sales! ;-)

    04-24-02 Blew up the Aptiva 2137-E84 installing a Microsoft IE security patch. The same patch installed just fine on two other machines, but trashed the Aptiva to the point where it won't boot to either Win98 or DOS 6.22. I'm a bit cheesed, 'cause this patch was supposed to protect against malware and virii.. yet no virus could have smoked my system more thoroughly than it did!

    05-03-02 Began the process of rebuilding the Aptiva 2137-E84. Alas, it did not go well. Numerous lockups installing Win98, freezing at the BIOS screen, etc. So, in disgust, I decided to make the Aptiva 2137-E16 my primary platform for old DOS games. Yes, the IBM/Cyrix 166 MHz processor gives up a bit in performance compared to the E84's 300 MHz K6-2. But not as much as you might think! It's plenty fast enough for playing Commander Keen and the like. That still leaves me with a spare Aptiva case to build my Dream Athlon machine...

    05-04-02 Stripped the 2137-E84, and mix 'n' matched the parts to get the 2137-E16 running. It keeps the 20x CD-ROM, but gets the E84's bigger hard drives, 4-4-24 x CD-R/W, and RAM. Am using the onboard audio and video. In contrast to the E84, setting up Win98 on the E16 went smooth as could be. Even setting up the DOS partition (of which I, of course, had a CD-R backup) went without a hitch. So, indications are that it may just live up to my first E16's reliability and ease-of-use. [knocks on wood]

    Interestingly enough, it became apparent when I was stripping the 2137-E84 down that the motherboard had been replaced, or at least removed, at some time in the past. I suspect that someone hacked the poor little PC, resulting in it's flakiness. It's difficult to see how my first E16 and that particular E84 could be so far apart in the reliability department, otherwise.

    05-05-02 Paid a visit to the MarketPro Computer Show at the Agricenter, picked up the parts needed to build my version of a "Maximum bang for the buck PC" using the spare Aptiva case. Based on an ECS Elitegroup K7S5A motherboard with Athlon 1800+ XP processor, I also snagged an 80 Gb Seagate HD, a Hi-Val 24-10-40 x CD-R/W, and 512 Mb of PC2100 DDR RAM at the show.

    The assembly went quite smooth.. much easier than I expected, truth to tell. Since the OEM IBM implementation of ATX used a non-standard power connector (AT- style), I had to replace the power supply. However, the IBM swing-out carriage was a perfect fit around a generic 300-Watt ATX power supply, so I still retain the no-tools aspect of the excellent IBM design. The motherboard itself fit the case perfectly, though the clearance between the power supply and processor fan is very, very tight. All in all this project was a real pleasure.

    Along with a few odds 'n' ends like a case fan, CAT-5 cable, etc., the total damage to my plastic at the show was $440. Even counting the $50 I paid for the case, and the $70 for the video card, the grand-total is still only $560. Dirt cheap for a PC this powerful! And it's all housed in that great case...

    05-10-02 Replaced the Athlon 1400's Nikko stereo reciever with a Kenwood 50 watt/channel unit I happened to have laying around. Yes, the power rating is half the Nikko's.. but in practice 50 watts/channel is plenty! While I was happy with the Nikko, overall, some of the switches were getting a bit noisy, occasionally introducing pops & crackles into the recordings. Yeah, a good cleaning would put it right.. but since I had the Kenwood in reserve I decided to take the easy way out. :-)

    05-11-02 Added a Creative Labs Soundblaster PCI-16 soundcard to the Athlon 1800 XP machine. The onboard sound just wasn't cutting it, the output level being very low. Hooked into the Kenwood amp, an acceptable volume level could be achieved, mind you, but there was an aprox. 20 db level mismatch compared to the other input sources. I don't know if this is a generic fault of the ECS K7S5A's integrated sound, or a fluke. Certainly I have seen no other complaints on this score. And, with discrete soundcards being available for such low prices, it wouldn't cause me to discommend the board, in any case.

    I obtained the PCI-16 at Computer Liquidators, an $18.95 overstock blowout. Since CompUSA is selling the same card for $30, I think I did OK.. Yes, I could've gotten a generic PCI soundcard from the same source for under $10. But I've always had good luck with Soundblasters; easy setup and reliable operation, and this card proved no exception. So I count the extra $9 or $10 to be money well spent!

    05-17-02 Added a PCtel HPS56 AMR modem to the Athlon 1800 XP machine. ECS wanted $30 +shipping for their unit. Since I can get a generic 56k PCI modem for $20 at CompUSA, there ain't no way I was paying that! However, I did want to use the AMR slot, if for no other reason than to keep a PCI slot open for future expansion.

    Much to my surprise, neither CompUSA, Computer Liquidators, or Best Buy had AMR modems in stock. What to do, what to do? e-Bay! Hey, if it's good enough for NASA... [grin]

    A bit of surfing turned up several candidates, with opening bids ranging from $1 to $12. I won the bidding on the PCtel unit for $9, plus $1 shipping. It arrived in good shape and, despite the plain-jane packaging and the CD-R install disc (!), setup was a piece of cake, and it works just fine. Life is wonderful.

    12-28-02 Welcomed the CWI 486/66 machine back into the fold. Replaced the defective 32x Memorex CD-ROM drive with a used 20x IBM I had layin' around, installed a spare Samsung 10T Ethernet card, and away we go. I reckon that, at some point, I'll wipe Win95 off the drive and install Linux...

    01-01-03 Rearranged my CD-ROM and CD-R/W drives (and one hard drive) to better match the drive speed to the CPU speed of the PC in which it's installed. I mean, it's silly to have a Athlon 1800XP machine running a 5400 rpm hard drive and a 24x burner when you have an Athlon 1400 machine running a 7200 hard drive and a 40x burner, right? :-) The project went well, with the only hitch being that, in every case, Nero v. 5.5 refused to see the new CD burner. Seems silly, 'cause CloneCD had no trouble automatically detecting the new drive! In any case, uninstalling and reinstalling Nero did the trick.

     

    Note-this diary was created on 7-28-00. The inclusion of such info in the LAN machine description section was causing it to become unwieldy. Events previous to that were reconstructed from those notes, credit card bills, and so on. As such, the log is by no means complete nor inclusive prior to August of 2000.


Gone but not forgotten

Past Members of the McBroom home LAN


 

IBM Aptiva 2137-E16

  • mid-tower case
  • Cyrix/IBM P166 processor
  • 16 Mb RAM
  • 2.1 Gb HD
  • 20x CD-ROM
  • 3-1/2 Floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • ATI Rage Pro 3d video w/ 4 megs VRAM (1600 x 1200)
  • Crystal Sound audio
  • Stereo speakers (standalone)
  • 33.6k fax/modem

Upgrades:

  • RAM- 64 megs total
  • Accton SOHObasic (Realtek) Ethernet NIC
  • 8.4 Gb Western Digital HD (replacement)
  • 40x CD-ROM (replaced OEM 20x drive)
  • H-P 8250 CD-R/W drive (4-4-24 x)
  • Generic 14" monitor (800 x 600)
  • Canon Bubblejet printer
  • Modem software upgrade to 56k v.90 specs

Function: Secondary client PC (Karen's PC).

OS: DOS 6.22/Win 3.1, Win 98 (primary), and Win NT Workstation 4.0

    Notes: Polar opposite of the Compaq 4814, this PC is a dream to upgrade/expand. IBM does know what theyíre doing!

    (7-31-00) This little PC was the most stable and trouble-free Win 9x platform that Iíve ever run across, bar none. So, when I decided that my son, Robert, had to have a PC for his growing family, this is the one I picked. The above info indicates its hardware configuration at the time I passed it along to them. I pulled the existing drives (the OEM 2.1 Gb Seagate and a 13.6 Gb Maxtor Iíd added), replacing them with a new 8.4 Gb Western Digital and a fresh, clean Win 98 install. Their one and only problem so far is mostly my fault; I forgot to test the modem before they took possession, and it doesnít work. Weíll soon fix that, though, since itís merely a driver problem! Karen and I plan to visit Robert and Cassie in late August, and if Cassie hasnít installed the drivers by that time, Iíll certainly fix them up. I also plan to replicate the DOS 6.22 / Win 3.1 partition from its days here, which contains a plethora of old games. Those ought to be a real blast from the past for Bob!

    Perhaps the best indication of the esteem in which I held this PC is this; when I ran across itís big brother on e-Bay for $170, shipping included, I couldnít resist. <grin> Itís a 2137-E84, which basically means a 300 MHz AMD K6 processor and a 4 Gb HD, but it is otherwise identical to the E16. As of this writing, Iím still awaiting the arrival of this system.. but I have high hopes for it! Of course, that E16 might have been a particularly perfect example of the breed. A "Wednesday PC", if you will. Itís possible that the E84 will prove to have been built on a Friday, and will be nowhere near as trouble-free. <knocks on wood> Weíll see!

    (8-3-00) Talked Cass through a long-distance phone install of new modem drivers. Went well, overall, and the modem is now operational. 'twould have been a piece of cake, had I realized that the original install had stuck the modem under Other Devices, and the fresh install made a new copy under Modems. Cass kept focusing on the yellow exclamation point by Other Devices, and by the time I realized what was going on, we'd wasted nearly a half-hour. Still, all's well that ends well!

    (8-10-00) Karen and I flew to El Paso for a visit, so I had a chance to lay hands on the old girl again. Within a couple of hours of our arrival, I had the case open. <grin> Their setup was pretty involved, and not wanting to take a chance on blowing it up, I took along a spare 2.1 Gb HD so that I could back it up before firing up Partition Magic. The backup wasn't needed, of course, but better safe than sorry. The installation of the DOS 6.22 / Win 3.11 partition went smoothly, and you should've seen Bob's eyes light up when he saw the distinctive menu system! "Games" he was thinking. The one joker was their Canon bubblejet printer. I found Win 3.x drivers, but as far as I can tell no true DOS drivers exist for that printer. Ah well, I doubt they'll ever need to print from DOS, anyway. Probably not even from Win 3.x, but I had to get that working just out of principle. Perhaps even better than the DOS partition, I replaced the brain-dead WD version of EZbios with a Maxtor version, and was able to get the full 10.2 Gb capacity of the HD back. Probably a good thing, as maintaining FOUR 2.1 Gb Win98 partitions was confusing Cass a bit, I think. Now she has only 2 partitions, one just under 6 Gbs, another of 4 Gbs, which I recommend that she devote solely to digital audio. Of course, I also installed the spare 2.1 Gb I took along, so she still has to contend with three drives. Oh, and Cass had indeed managed to get the modem up and running.. though she somehow managed to get the system to detect TWO modems. <grin> That was easy to fix, though. All in all, The Little PC That Could is working great for them, and should do so for many more years.

 

Compaq Presario 4814

  • ĺ tower case
  • Intel P233 MMX
  • 32 Mb RAM
  • 6.4 Gb Quantum Bigfoot HD
  • 24x Matshita CD-COM
  • 2d video w/ 2 Mb VRAM (1280 x 1024)
  • 56k fax/modem
  • ESS audiodrive sound
  • JBL stereo speakers (monitor-mounted)
  • 3-1/2 Floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • Iomega Zip drive, 100 Mb, internal
  • Media connections; 2 USB, composite video, stereo audio input
  • Compaq 1525 monitor (1024 x 768)

Upgrades:

  • RAM- 112 megs total
  • Accton SOHObasic (Realtek) Ethernet NIC
  • 8.4 Gb Western Digital HD (replacement)
  • Sony CD boombox w/ line-in as sound playback device
  • 5-1/4 high-density floppy drive
  • Lexmark Z-11 photo-quality inkjet printer

Function: Tertiary client PC (My daughterís bedroom PC.. chat-line city! Well, some homework gets done. <grin>)

OS: DOS 6.22/Win 3.1 and Win 98 (primary)

    Notes: My first Ďmoderní, i.e. Pentium-class PC, bought brand-new. A finicky, quirky PC that refuses to have anything to do with Win NT or Linux. :-/

    This PC now resides in N. Illinois, and will be used as Dana's "college computer". Before she took it, I removed the 5-1/4 floppy drive and the Ethernet NIC, and replaced the Lexmark Z-11 printer with the HP 694C.

 

Compaq Deskpro 590

  • Desktop case
  • Intel P90 Pentium
  • 16 Mb RAM
  • 420 Mb HD
  • 3-1/2 Floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • 4x CD-ROM
  • Q-vision onboard video w/ 1 meg VRAM (1024 x 728)
  • AMD onboard Ethernet
  • Sony CDP-1304 monitor (1024 x 768)

Upgrades:

  • RAM- 64 megs total
  • 44x CD-ROM
  • 6.4 Gb Quantum Bigfoot HD (replacement)
  • H-P Pavilion 14" monitor (1024 x 768)
  • Pentium 120mhz/overclocked Mb
  • Award Technology v.90 ISA faxmodem
  • Digital Research Advanced 16-bit ISA wavetable sound

Function: General tinker-toy and Linux testbed. Is also backup Internet server.

OS: DOS 6.22/Win 3.1, Win NT Wkst 4.0 (primary), and Red Hat Linux 5.2

    Notes: Another quirky PC, mainly because of its bizarre chassis design. Considered Ďindustry-standardí a few years ago, though, and it does handle alternate OSes well. Bought this and the AST Bravo used as an e-Bay package deal; $212 shipped to my door!

    (12-15-2000) I swapped this PC to a co-worker friend for a Technics stereo system and a stack of used vinyl. I reckon we both got a pretty good deal; he was certainly in desperate need of a PC! After the swap I wiped the drive and reconfigured it with a Win98-only setup.

 

H-P Pavilion 9720

  • 1/2 tower case
  • Intel Celeron 900 MHz
  • 128 Mb RAM
  • 3-1/2 Floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • 30 Gb HD
  • Samsung DVD-ROM drive
  • Mitsumi CD-R/W drive (8-4-32 x)
  • Intel Video, 8 Mb
  • 56K Lucent Win-modem
  • Polk stereo speakers

Upgrades:

  • RAM- 384 Mb total
  • 17" Sylvania monitor (1240 x 1024)
  • Canon BJC-250 bubblejet printer
  • D-Link 10/100 Ethernet NIC

Function: Client PC

OS: Windows ME

    Notes: Overall, a decent little PC. It was easy to set up, and is plenty powerful enough. At $699, it was a good deal, too, when you consider the CD-R/W and DVD-ROM drives. I was a little disappointed to find that it has no ISA slots; this meant that I couldn't use the perfectly good ISA Ethernet card I had on hand, and had to spring for a new PCI card. However, the D-Link Ethernet card was on sale for $10 at Best Buy, so I can't complain too much! And, really, you're better off without the ISA bus, nowadays. The front panel USB port is a nice feature.

 

TcPC

  • 1/2 tower case
  • Cyrix 6x86MX processor
  • 32 Mb RAM
  • 3 Gb HD
  • 24x CD-ROM
  • 3-1/2 floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • S2 Trio64 video (4 Mb)
  • generic 15" XGA monitor (1024 x 768)

Upgrades:

  • 5-1/4 floppy, 1.2 Mb
  • Accton SOHObasic (Realtek) Ethernet NIC

Function: Client PC

OS: Win 98

    Notes: A little on the slow side, but is quite reliable. My main dislike is that it has just one DIMM slot; not a very versatile design in respect to RAM upgrades!

 

IBM Aptiva 2137-E84

  • mid-tower case
  • AMD K6-2 processor, 300 MHz
  • 64 Mb RAM
  • 3-1/2 Floppy, 1.44 Mb
  • 4.0 Gb Seagate HD
  • 24x Acer CD-ROM
  • ATI Rage Pro 3d video w/ 4 megs VRAM (max is 1600 x 1200 @ 256 colors)
  • Crystal Sound PnP audio
  • 33.6k fax/modem

Upgrades:

  • SMC 10/100 Fast Ethernet NIC
  • RAM- 512 Mb total
  • 13.6 Gb Maxtor HD (addition, OEM 4.0 Gb is now the 2nd HD)
  • 56x CD-ROM (replaced OEM 24x drive)
  • H-P/LG 8083B CD-R/W drive (4-4-24 x) (was OEM in the Pavilion)
  • HP 5100cse SCSI scanner
  • Modem software upgrade to 56k v.90 specs
  • 3dfx Voodoo3 2000 PCI video card (16 Mb)

Function: Secondary client PC. In other words, my backup for everyday e-mail, web browsing, word processing, etc. Just about everything except MP3 encoding and the manipulation of extremely large graphics files, in fact. Though I do use it for that duty, occasionally!

OS: DOS 6.22/Win 3.1, Win 98 (primary)

    Notes: (05-04-2002) Always more than a little quirky, I decided to retire this PC.. or more accurately, gut the case and build a hot Athlon machine around it. The fact that Win98 wouldn't install, after being trashed by the MS IE Klez virus patch. was the last straw. Anyone wanna buy a 300 MHz AMD K6-2 complete with motherboard.. cheap? ];-)