Building an Intel Core i7 based computer – The goal

Somehow I’ve missed two important things to mention in the introduction: what will I use computer for and the budget.

The computer is, of course, meant to be a development workstation that will replace my current aged Core 2 Duo E6600 based one. I’ll base my new computer on three pillars in this order of importance:

  1. Reliability
  2. Silence
  3. Performance and Price/Performance ratio

The first point is all about avoiding unnecessary risks by taking in consideration only quality components if possible and redundancy. Nothing is more important than data. And having certain disk redundancy keeps computer operational even if a single disk fails – a disk failure is not uncommon at all. Backups are important as well, but that’s another story.

Does second point really need an explanation? Do you want the noise level of a vacuum cleaner under the desk? If you work a lot with computer you’ll appreciate as quiet machine as it gets. Low noise is mostly achieved through passive cooling or big fans that rotate slowly – the bigger they are the slower they need to rotate and thus noise is lower.

So, performance and price make only the third pillar in order of importance. Of course those performance and price are important but only after the first two.

Se what’s left is the budget: 1501 euros. Expensive? Cheap? I think this is a good compromise for my three pillars of a development workstation.

In case that I’ve missed some other relevant information so far, let me know.

See other relevant posts:

Introduction
Building an Intel Core i7 based computer – CPU cooler

Parallel computing in Visual Studio 2010/.net 4.0 slides

Just finished the presentation about Parallel computing in Visual Studio 2010/.net 4.0 at TŠC Nova Gorica (a part of Microsoft’s event for students). Audience was cool and almost everything went well, except for VS2010CTP crash at very beginning. Not a big problem, one has to expect such problems running CPT versions. Visual Studio restart fixed it.

All in all a good day for my presentation. Go get the slides here (slides are in Slovene language).

Building an Intel Core i7 based computer – CPU cooler

The most valuable aspects for my computer are performance and silence.

The later means as less possible noise producing components and as silent moving parts as possible. The Core i7 920 comes usually in a boxed SKU which means that is comes with a stock cooler. This cooler usually isn’t meant to be silent but rather an average noisy one. Thus the need for a 3rd party solution. Core i7 has a different socket than previous Core 2 Duo line – 1366 as opposed to 775 (the change is mostly due to integrated memory controller and hence more pins for the memory bus). The change of sockets also means that all available coolers won’t work just like that and since the socket 1366 is pretty much new there are no many coolers to choose from. After googling a bit I’ve found one that caught my attention: Scythe Mugen 2. It natively supports socket 1366 and it has a 12cm fan. The bigger the fan is the slower it has to rotate and thus it produces less noise. Well actually it comes with a single low noise 12cm fan but one can attach additional three similar fans (which I don’t plan – one should be more than enough). Anyway, my rule of the thumb for any cooler – the bigger the fan is the less noise it produces.

I bought Scythe Mugen 2 from mojcomp.net (Slovene online shop) for 49 Euros.

Here is a bunch of photos of the Scythe Mugen 2. I placed a CD case next to it to show the cooler’s relative size. There is also some cardboard stuffed in the cooler which I will remove before mounting it:

mugen4 mugen1 mugen2 mugen3

The cooler is one huge beast. Its size is amazing. At least is not that heavy. Few years ago I couldn’t imagine I’d mount coolers of this size and weight to motherboards.

Another important aspect of lowering the noise is fan speed controller on the mainboard. You attach the fan to the mainboard and BIOS takes care of fan speed. Not sure which motherboards support it but I am sure I’ll get one with proper support.

BTW if you wonder why I am buying a boxed CPU just to replace the stock cooler then wonder no more: non-boxed versions aren’t much cheaper and even if they were it is hard to find one.

See other relevant posts:

Introduction

XBit's review

Building an Intel Core i7 based computer – Introduction

I am starting to build a new computer for me and I’ll document the parts and decisions along the path.

Parts required for a computer:

  1. CPU
  2. Motherboard
  3. Memory
  4. Hard disks
  5. Chassis
  6. Power supply unit (PSU)
  7. CPU cooler
  8. Graphic card
  9. Operating system

Based on price/performance ration of new Intel Core i7 CPU line I’ve decided to build the computer around the i7 920 model which is the slowest of the i7 line yet it blasts all the Core 2 Quad line, not to mention Core 2 Duo line. It is a quad core CPU with hyperthreading thus it looks like 8 cores to the OS (albeit hyperthreading cores are not real ones – they can work in parallel only to a certain degree). It also features integrated memory controller which significantly reduces memory latency (lesson learned from AMD). The price of i7 920 is very reasonable as well: 282,8 Euros (all prices I’ll list are VAT included and expressed in Euros- use the currency converter such as Universal Currency Converter to convert prices to other currencies) from mimovrste.com (Slovene online shop). I’ll get back to the CPU when I receive it.

Change the HAL of Windows OS

I am doing a presentation on Visual Studio 2010/.net 4 parallel programming enhancements in the near future. [MS] released Visual Studio 2010 CTP and that’s fine. The problem was that the one and only release comes in the form of a VirtualPC image. This is not a problem by itself but it is a problem if one wants to show parallelism. You see, VirtualPC supports only single processor guests ([MS] isn’t exactly pushing for VirtualPC enhancements, is it – at the time [MS] bought VirtualPC it was on the same level as [VMWare] Workstation, now it is lightyears away). How can one show performance enhancements of parallelism with one CPU?

Part of the solution is [VMWare] Workstation 6.5 (and earlier, don’t know exactly which ones): it supports multiprocessor guests. Great. However once I’ve imported VirtualPC image into Workstation the OS was still showing only one processor even though device manager recognized two processors. Even updating the computer driver (node Computer\Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) PC) didn’t help – there were no choices. Luckily I’ve googled over this blog post: Hyper-V How To: Change the HAL on your vm. Oh, the joy, the trick just worked.

The other problem with this presentation is that Visual Studio 2010 CTP expired by the end 2008. The solution is to change date backwards (silly, isn’t it) but Workstation/Windows keep synchronizing the time with current and thus yielding all sort of activation and expiration warnings. The solution is a twofold one:

- add these lines to Workstation’s configuration file so the Workstation won’t synchronize the guest on every occasion (thanks to Virtual Time Freeze):

tools.syncTime = "FALSE"
time.synchronize.continue = "FALSE"
time.synchronize.restore = "FALSE"
time.synchronize.resume.disk = "FALSE"
time.synchronize.shrink = "FALSE"

- remove or disable guest’s network capabilities so the OS won’t synchronize as well.

Ah, the joys of presentations based on CTPs.

SIOL (IPTV provider) managed to upset its customers once more

I have an IPTV provided by biggest national IPTV/IS provider. The current service is poor at best. We have FTTH (the slowest is 20Mb - that's awesome) but really lousy (~4Mb at best) MPEG2(!) encoded streams. The most obvious consequence of such encoding is pixelation when there is a faster change on the picture and poor quality in general. To make things worse there is a crappy, yet somewhat functional UI that lets you select channels and read EPG. It mostly works (except for occasional ASP.NET 1.1 server too busy error) and its speed is decent. IMO it mostly lacks two features:

  • one can't browse other channel's EPG (electronic program guide) without actually changing channel (IOW watch a channel and read other channel's EPG). I once asked SIOL about this and the response was: "Check out the teletext - you can't perform this stunt in teletext either". So much about understanding the technology progress.
  • one can't mark favorite shows and have an option of notification before the show

Now, both features are minor, yet SIOL isn't capable of implementing them. Since the UI is built around ASP.NET 1.1 (as seen on occasional errors) it shouldn't take more than a week to implement the two features. But they didn't change the UI for years now. Except for upgrading the progress icon to an animated gif.

Then, one day, they started a SIOL TV+ UI. (note the + char). It features a newly organized and richer UI, plus VOD and a recorder through UI (storage is provided on SIOL's server). Sounds great, right? Not at all. Here is the list of consequences:

  1. You have to buy a newer STB (or get one for free if you sign with SIOL for 2 years)
  2. UI is slow as hell. I mean really really slow at the point where it is unusable.
  3. UI is cluttered as hell - it is really bad and a total mess.
  4. It doesn't have favorite channels group.
  5. Recorder doesn't work and even when it will it will be useless: it is enabled only for a couple of Slovene channels (due to legal issues) and those shows will be persisted only for at most 2 days (the total place for storage per user is 6 hrs in total) . It won't be free as well since it uses SIOL's storage. There are other problems with recorder not listed but the question is why they bother at all with such crap service?
  6. VOD: after you pay for the movie you have 24 hours to watch it. The library is poor, at least the last time I've checked it.

True, I didn't check it lately. But for a reason. There were reports that lately people who checked out the new UI couldn't go back to the old, functional, one. The two UIs could coexist until recently.

And now, actually 10 days from now, SIOL is disabling the old UI for good and forcing everybody to new great new one - with or without the new STB. That's indeed a great move, kill the customer's will to watch TV, way to go! On the other side I'll watch less TV and spend more time with other activities I guess.

e-hiša (e-house) in Nova Gorica

Wednesday I attended the opening of e-hiša, the house of experiments, in Nova Gorica. Luka Manojlovič and a team of young volunteers have put up a nice place where quite a bunch of interesting experiments (robotics, optical, audio, physicall and other effects) can be seen and even toyed with. It is the place I should have visited when I were in school! I am also proud to say that I've contributed a couple of applications to the e-house and planning to create even more of them in the future.

Here is an article (and video) where you can learn more about it. Blog of e-hiša is here. Kudos to Luka and his team for amazing effort they made.

My article about missing HTC TyTN II graphics drivers published on Moj Mikro

A while ago I wrote an article about HTC TyTN II and its missing graphics drivers for Slovene computer magazine Moj Mikro. Now the article has been published on-line, so check it out if you are interested in why TyTN II's graphics performance is dismal, or how HTC is treating their loyal customers. The article is in Slovene.

Read the article here.

Update since article has been written: new ROM has been delivered with Windows Mobile 6.1 and no proper graphics drivers.