Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Flexibility, with Dell and Ubuntu

I know I wax rhapsodic about Ubuntu and the general power and wonderfulness that is Linux but I've just had an experience that adds another ingredient to the mix. I have a bit of penchant for older hardware - I maintain a gaming system that is generally no more than a year old before I upgrade it's innards but apart from that system, all my hardware is old stuff. Why bother to buy a new machine to run Linux on it, when a two or three year old box will do exactly what I want it to?

I recently picked up a Dell Precision 380 and an Optiplex GX280. Sweet machines - I'm particularly impressed with the Precision and it makes me wonder what a brand new one would be like. Perhaps I'll have to break with tradition and invest in a new one :-) The Optiplex was purchased on a bit of a whim - only $100 and it's a P4 3.2GHz box with DDR2 RAM etc (I'm using it right now actually). Not bad and it's also a mini desktop (or whatever you call them). Very small, quiet and easy to tuck away. It's the same as the two GX240's I've got. The only bad thing I've found is the CDROM appears to be faulty in some fashion. At any rate, installing Ubuntu 8.10 wasn't happening - disk errors abounded and although the CD itself checked out, it was failing on this system. Rather than piss and moan about it, I pulled the 160GB SATA disk out and popped it into the Precision - all the disk mounting stuff is the same, the cables reached perfectly etc etc and after a short interval I shut the box down, retrieved the disk and threw it into the GX280 again. An hour and a half later, I've customised the hell out of my Ubuntu install (mmm pretty) and it's going great guns - no hardware issues nothing. Sweet!

This is kind of a review of Ubuntu 8.10 too - I really like the new DarkRoom theme and as usual the upgrade process (that I performed on another box) went very smoothly. It runs quite nicely and although I've read elsewhere that 8.10 is slower than other iterations of Ubuntu it appears to run quite snappily for me. Earlier I transferred about 10GB of data over my gigabit network and that gave it a real push - the load hit about 8 at one point :-) But the old hardware and the new operating system pushed on quite happily - although I do hear the fan complaining a bit. With the ambient air temperature around the 28 degrees C plus the work it's doing, it's no wonder really.

Back to the Dell PCs I've got now - I have 6 and many of the parts are interchangeable. Naturally there are exceptions to the rule - the power supplies vary somewhat between the little PCs and the Precision has almost unique innards compared to the others. This is quite alright. I'm very pleased with all of them. I've actually got a reasonably good working installation of Windows Server 2008 Standard on the Precision - Microsoft's TechNet Direct is a terrific resource if you want to stay on top of all the Microsoft software out there. The Precision runs it quite happily and it's gratifying to note that nVidia even has drivers for the Quadro network card that work happily under 64 bit Server 2008. It's a happy little family of Dell PCs, Ubuntu Linux, Windows Server 2008 and my lone Windows Vista/XP gaming box. The cousins in the lounge room - the Xbox (modded naturally) and it's younger brother the 360 talk happily to these machines too and combined it forms a nice little network. If only my power bill wasn't quite so large.....

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