let’s try this again

  • Antec NSK3300 MicroATX tower [~$100 w/shipping]
  • Gigabyte GA-8I945GMMFY-RH (Mobile on Desktop motherboard) [~$165]
  • Intel Core 2 Duo T5600 1.83Ghz CPU [$250]
  • 1 GB super-fast RAM [$170]
  • 2 new 200GB SATA drives [2x$70 = $140]
  • Reuse my current DVD writer

Total moneys: $825

This is a real computer. Unlike the VIA stuff, it can actually compute. Plus, if I wanted, I could put a real video card in it someday.

Granted, it’s not as small as mini-itx, but it’s still way smaller than my current setup. And the power usage rivals mini-itx setups (I expect the setup to use well under 100W, probably around 50W).

The catch? The NSK3300 doesn’t really have room for two well-cooled soft-mounted HDDs. So I’ll have to hack up my own HDD suspension mount, something like this (but with two drives):

hdd suspension mount

One minor downside is that because there’s only a single IDE channel, I have to buy two new SATA drives. This isn’s strictly true, but I think with the drives being so far from the DVD burner, one IDE cable probably won’t reach. On the other hand, it might, which would allow me to use one of my current drives. I could also look into getting one of these nifty devices.

a snazzier solution

Total cost: $750
And there we have a smaller, quieter, sexier solution.  The only fans are the 60mm case fan and the optional CPU fan (if I got the CN10000, there we be no CPU fan).


  • With the newer C7 chip and 533Mhz FSB, I’m not worried about being able to keep up with the current warchicken.
  • It’s probably pretty quiet, though it’s hard to gauge exactly how much more quiet it would be than the aforementioned lowest cost solution.
  • It’s small.
  • It’s going to use less power than the Venus.


  • It’s getting up there in price.
  • There are a couple more powerful CPU setups out there I could be using.  For example, I could get a Core Duo [$183] setup [$315] for a total of around $1050; or I could upgrade slightly from the CN13000 to the EN15000, which is the fastest VIA chip out there (and it brings a premium of $75 over the CN13000, for a new total of $825 plus shipping).

My current feeling is to go with the Venus because the reuse of parts is just too tempting.  Even the huge Venus case is going to be small compared to what I’ve got.  And a lot quieter & lower power.  But I probably shouldn’t get too frugal and skimp on the mainboard and ram.  So the current favorite is the $402 solution discussed in the “lowest cost solution” post.

the laziest solution

I could just get a mac mini. I don’t have to put it together then. Plus I get a speedy core duo. The major drawbacks are:

  • cost: at least $874 the way I would want it configured.
  • only one hard drive. that leaves me buying an external drive and powering it, which is ugly and another $100 at least.
  • mac hardware: this could just be superstition, but as I’m definitely running linux on whatever I get, there may be more difficulties with mac’s hardware than with the VIA stuff.

the lowest cost solution

The cheapest way to go, of course, is to buy as little as possible. The Venus case makes this possible:

  • Ram: 1GB DDR266 [$0 — I already have one]
  • Ethernet: onboard 10/100 [$0]
  • Audio: onboard 6-channel [$0]
  • Video: onboard (has hardware MPEG-2 accelerator) [$0]
  • Hard drives: Already own 2x suitable drives which will fit into the Venus [$0]
  • DVD burner: The Venus also has room for my drive. [$0]

Total cost: $252 plus shipping


Wow that’s cheap. Of course, this stems from the fact that I already have a bunch of the components. Other benefits:

  • The M10000 is a well-tested and well-loved board. It’s been around for a while. Of the VIA EPIAs, it’s the one with the least surprises to uncover.
  • It’s undoubtedly quieter, and lower power, than what I’m currently running.
  • I don’t even have to move my data from the old warchicken. Since I’ll be reusing the hard drives, I can just install the OS on the root partition, and leave the other partitions untouched (though I might take this opportunity to reformat anyway with something other than reiserfs, because it scares me).

The drawbacks:

  • Performance may actually be somewhat worse than my athlon XP. How much worse is tough to say, though it’s doubtful that it will be too slow for most of the stuff I run. This stems from both the mediocre CPU and the slow memory bus speed. One upgrade that could alleviate this would be to replace the M10000 and the free ram by the VIA EPIA CN13000 or CN10000 (fanless) [$185] and a new stick of DDR2 533 RAM [$122]. We’re still at only $402, and much faster because of the newer chipset and cpu (the CN boards have the C7 processor, while the M10000 has the previous generation C3).
  • Of all the mini-itx cases at logicsupply, the Venus is the largest and probably one of the loudest. It has 2x40mm fans and a beefy 200w power supply. The larger power supplies tend to be less efficient and put out more fan noise.
  • These hard drives will be louder and require more power than similar-sized laptop hard drives.

teh requirements


  • at least 100 mbit ethernet
  • decent 2 channel audio (or better), or room for my pci sound card
  • cpu that’s not much slower than what I’ve got (athlon XP 1800+ (1100Mhz))
  • at least 1 gig ram.
  • reliability. I don’t want to go through this process again for at least another 4 years.
  • 2 hard drives. I’ve questioned a number of times whether this is really a need (because it makes things more complicated), and decided it really is. I’m far too paranoid about my data, and I want extremely short term backups (e.g. multiple times daily). If the backup can’t be automatic, it won’t happen frequently or consistently enough. Technically, one of the hard drives could be external, but then it would have to be plugged in all the time. Also, the backup drive doesn’t need to be more than 20 gigs or so. (the primary drive should be at least 60, preferably 80 or more.)
  • < $1000. While I'm not strictly on a budget, you gotta draw the line somewhere. And I'm not asking for much here, so $1000 should be able to buy a hell of a machine.
  • Low power
  • Quiet.  To pull this off, I definitely need a better case.
  • DVD burner (for backups). I already have one, so if the case has room for a full size 5 1/4″ drive, that’s dandy. On the other hand, it’s old and slow, and the new ones are not all that expensive.


  • Small. From the research I’ve done so far, it looks like this quite often goes hand in hand with low power and quiet. However, it’s not an absolute requirement.

Not important:

  • Speedy video card. As long as it do 2d decently well (1280×1024 @ 85hz w/24 bit color should be a bare minimum) I care not. I have an old AGP card that does what I need (and is fanless), so an AGP slot could be considered a small bonus here, if only because it has potential to save a buck.
  • SATA vs PATA.


  • 64 bit? Am I really going to care for this server? It’s not doing anything very performance-intensive, and it’s not going to need to address more than 4 gigs of ram, so I tend to doubt it. On the other hand, I might be able to get more bang/watt out of something like a dual core opteron or core duo running in 64 bit mode. The obsolesence argument really doesn’t hold up here, because I’m not planning on needing to upgrade this machine (In fact, it’s over 4 years old and doesn’t need upgrading now. It’s just breaking.) So this question should be answered purely based on bang/watt and (to a lesser degree) bang/dollar considerations.

emphasis on seemingly

I thought warchicken was in a stable state, but it’s really not. This evening I tried to build some packages and it threw everything into a nasty state. I got a bunch more of those glibc errors, and the root filesystem got mildly corrupted.

After some 30 minutes of fixing, the system is usable again, but still flakey. Perhaps the problem is that I’m overheating the cpu every time I use it a lot, like for compiling. Come to think of it, maybe it kinda melted that one week when I was on honeymoon and it was 100+ degrees here..

warchicken is dying

Recently warchicken has been behaving badly. Programs have been crashing randomly, and I’ve been getting errors such as: “gcc: your hardware sucks” and “glibc: this is probably a hardware error.”

I haven’t yet figured out exactly what the problem is, but I suspect something fairly brainy is involved, such as the cpu, motherboard, or ram.

I’ve managed to get it into a seemingly stable state, but I did a number of things at once:

  • stop using binary nvidia driver
  • changed ram modules to one i had laying around
  • stopped using ram slot #2
  • stopped using ram slot #3
  • slowed down the FSB
  • turned off a bunch of stuff in the bios

So I’m not exactly sure which of these has made things better, and I’m pretty lazy about trying to figure out which, especially since figuring out which requires (1) shutting the machine down and (2) intentionally breaking it.

But even though it’s seemingly stable now, it would be nice to get new hardware so that I can be more confident. Also, quiet and lower power would be nice. I’m learning about mini-itx stuff, which could well be the answer.

I shall post ideas for new hardware here as they formulate.