My New Workstation

AMD FX 8120 Powered

It has been a while now that I am without a work PC. The PC has been given away to my nieces for their schoolwork and I’m in no hurry to get its replacement because I’m waiting for the release of the new AMD FX series processors. A new architecture, a new way of computing and I’m all for it. The future is multi-threaded and this cpu excels in multi-threaded environment and as of now the wait is over.

My PCs have always been powered by processors from the competitors ever since the 386. It is because that I like competition, without them there will be no check on pricing and as a consumer it is not good. On the other hand I usually go for price/performance. Cyrix has gone, Nexgen becomes part of AMD and VIA is now concentrating on a niche market. So now AMD is practically the sole competitor to Intel in the x86 world.

The PC is powered by the FX 8120 processor, 8GB ram, 1TB hard disk drive and a Radeon 6750 graphics card with 2GB DDR3 ram. This is an unintended result which will be temporary. I have bought a 64GB SSD months earlier (meant for the old PC) but somehow it is not working. My intention is that the OS and application programs will reside in the SSD while all my data will be in separate partitions on the hard disk. I have been separating the OS and application programs away from my data for a long  time. During the time when hard disks capacities were small, I had the OS, application programs and data stored in a compressed hard disk (this increases its capacity). At one time, the OS could not be loaded and as a result of that I could not access my data. That was when I decided to separate them.

The partitions on the 1TB hard disk

The hard disk was then partitioned into two parts, one for the OS and application programs in the boot partition in compressed mode, the other for data in the extended partition in non-compressed mode. If something goes wrong I just reinstall the OS and application programs without damaging my data, or, I just attach the hard disk drive to another computer and retrieve my data. Now, I don’t have to reinstall the OS but just reimage the partition from the saved clone image that I did immediately after a full installation if and when the need arises. This saves the trouble for activating Windows again and with all my data on separate partitions, not only that they are safe but backing-up is a breeze too.

With this set I intend to familiarise myself with some of the CAD programs. The freely available AutoCAD LT alternative DoubleCAD XT for 2D, FreeCAD for 3D, Blender and POV-Ray for rendering. It has been a long while since I last lay my hands on the drawing board and I now have a project. The only problem is that the learning curves for these 3D programs were steep, just hoping that the will be strong enough to overcome any procrastination.

Rendering of the file biscuit.pov in ver 3.6 is 71607 PPS with CPU running at 3.3GHz

Rendering of the same biscuit.pov in ver 3.7 results in 120323 PPS at the same CPU speed

Note:

Accordingly the system should be able to use all 8 cores. It shows on Device Manager but on Task Manager it shows only 4 cores. Is this normal or limitation of Windows Home Premium? On Microsoft site it is stated that 64 bits Windows 7 can have up to 256 cores processor (multiple cores processor) but only the Pro and above can have more than one processor (multiple processors) but limited to only two processors. Need to check this Task Manager thing.

Solved

The answer was found in amdzone site, if I remembered it well (was  s excited that I quite forgot the site). Someone having the same problem but with the AMD X6 processor and Task Manager showed only 4. To solve it type ‘msconfig’ on the start menu, click the ‘boot’ tab in the window that appears, then click the ‘Advanced option…’ and uncheck the ‘Number of processor’. Reboot. Once rebooted, repeat the process again but this time check the ‘Number of processor’ box and choose 8 and reboot. That’s it.

The Task Manager showing 8 cores

Bicuit rerendered in POV-Ray 3.7 RC3. This time the time is 140034 avg PPS. Actually it varies between 125000 and 140000 but mostly in the upper 135xxx

Lastly the built-in benchmark takes 247 seconds to render

Update:

The PC is now fully assembled with a little more hardware added than originally intended. The OS is now sitting on two 60GB SSDs in Raid 0 (stripe) configuration (120GB total) and 8GB additional memory added (16GB total). Pagefile set to none. I shall put up the migration process of the OS from the basic hard disk to the striped SSDs soon.

You can read the migration process here.

Evolution of The PC

I remember the days when what is known today as PC were only bought by hobbyists. The term geek was totally unheard off at that time. The popularity of the word geek in replacing the word hobbyist as PC enthusiast began with the advent of widespread usage of the PC itself. Then, the hobbyists were shy on calling the PC a computer because it was based on the lowly microprocessor. I could not recall if there were any manufacturer that sells a complete unit and had the word computer in the brand’s name. Only when IBM came to the scene did it being called a computer, the IBM PC, where PC stood for Personal Computer. I also remember reading an article in a magazine in later years stating that the IBM management was not really interested in the PC but they did let their engineers assembled the PC from off-the-shelf components. That was the time when the cash cow of IBM was the Mainframe. Thanks to them, the PC was born.

Soon after the IBM PCs came to market, copies that was termed as the IBM PC clones began to appear. Initially it came in the form of hardware for hobbyists and system integrators, but it didn’t took long for other manufacturers to jump in the bandwagon and started to sell their version of the IBM PC clones.

The IBM PC was initially based on Intel 8088 8-bit microprocessor. This was later replaced by 16-bit Intel 80286 microprocessor and the PC was then renamed to IBM PC-AT (Advanced Technology). Later on down the road, the 80286 was replaced by the 80386, 80486 and Pentium subsequently, and they were all 32-bit processors. I can’t really recall when exactly the word ‘micro’ started to be dropped-off and people began to use just the term ‘processor’. Currently the processors, or to be precise CPUs, powering all new PCs are all 64-bit. Note that these 64-bit CPUs are also capable executing in 32-bit mode.

Besides Intel, there were also other manufacturers that produced microprocessors for the PCs, probably under license from Intel. They were AMD, Cyrix, Via and Nexgen. I don’t know if there were others except that my first upgrade was swapping the Intel 8088 for Hitachi V-20, an improved version with added instructions. Nexgen was later bought over by AMD and AMD incorporated Nexgen up and coming CPU into their own design.

Tremendous advancements had been made on the graphic, storage, memory and the subsystem of the PC. A 1-bit display (black or white in high-resolution mode bit-mapped graphics) has now evolved into full colour 32-bit display. The 5 inch floppy storage that can  hold just a few hundred kilobyte is now a hard disk holding data in the range of gigabyte and coming soon terabyte region. Main memory which began with less than a hundred kilobyte is now a few gigabyte. PCB with socketed chips is now fully SMT, no more replacing of faulty ICs but instead the whole board. The movement of data around the system had increased dramatically and with higher clocked CPUs, its blindingly fast. It’s too bad that all these achievements make some if not many programmers lazy, producing bloated software that negates the hardware speed gains. PCs are now common items, parts are produced in great volume and as a result of that, the price of a PC is now cheaper and much more affordable for the general masses.

On the software side, IBM didn’t create the OS but instead licensed it from a small company called Microsoft and named it PCDOS. Microsoft released MSDOS for the clones. They are practically the same except for one variation and I can’t remember what was it…….and the rest is history. Now, the majority of the Windows Operating System installed on the general PCs at large are 32-bit. (To those who don’t know much about the inner workings of a computer, just think of it as the size of the data length that can be computed by the CPU at any given time.) But, with the advent of Windows 7, the current offering from Microsoft, the shift to 64-bit computing for the masses has  now begun. Just years ago, 64-bit computing was the realm of supercomputers.

Today, the PC is very powerful. Put them in numbers they become a supercomputer. It has changed the way we work, the way we play and the way we communicate. It had brought down the once mighty Mainframe. Along the way it had made word processors and typesetting machines obsolete. There are no more cut and paste in the real sense to produce artworks for newspaper, magazine or newsletter. With proper hardware and software, it can be turned into a recording studio or even a radio station bar the transmitter.

While the desktop PC still remains, it had been shrunk and transformed into laptop which later gave way to an even smaller form that is the notebook. The notebook is much smaller than the original laptop and is still being referred by some as laptop. The reduction in size is for the ease of mobility. Any further reduction, in my opinion, it is not a PC anymore. It had become a specialised tool suitable for certain functions because it also changed the way we interact with it. The netbook as the name suggest, is good only for accessing the Internet while on the move. It is just uncomfortable to do serious works on it over an extended period of time. The keyboard and the display are just too small. While the notebook can easily replace the desktop as a workhorse, the netbook just don’t fit in unless one have no other choice. Tablet PC? Well, I guess with a full size keyboard attached, it should be alright if they come with a stand.

The PCs had become an integral part of our lives. A must have even to those who cannot afford it, hence the movement One Laptop Per Child, the OLPC that is. Getting an education now involved the PC as one of the mediums to acquire knowledge, so acquiring computer skills early is a good start. The skills are then a bonus, when these children enter the job market and join the workforce later in their lives.

Basic Application Programs For The General PCs

New PC/Notebook comes bloated with unnecessary programs at start-up. This will take up memory space and slow down the computer booting-up. Also with less memory available, computing will become slower with the OS having to swap the idle program to the hard disk to free more memory space to execute current process.

Those programs that run at Windows start-up do not have to be necessarily removed, just unable them to execute during start-up. This can be done easily with freeware programs such as Ccleaner and Tweaknow, just to mention a few, there are many others that can do the job. Only when the need arises, the programs that has been disabled at start-up, can then be executed to perform its functions.

Once the programs has been disabled, it is practically just the OS system running after booting-up Windows Then there’s the question, ”What are the basic application programs that are needed to be installed for general use?” Here’s a list of what I think that are the basic necessities that need to be installed on a new PC or PC that has been reformatted and had Windows cleanly installed on it for general use. They are not in particular order except for the first one below.

AntiVirus and Firewall

It goes without saying that these are a must have application programs. Formerly they are a separate entity, and some still are, but the trend now is to bunch them together plus some other functions and called them Internet Security Suite. It is named Internet Security maybe it is because nowadays viruses and other form of malware mainly come from the Internet and not anymore from the floppy disk which is practically now non-existent. What we have now in place of the floppy disk is the thumb drive which is still a potential source for viruses especially the autorun.inf virus. For home users, Comodo Firewall + AntiVirus provides the solutions in one suite. There are two sets of installer to choose from. One set for the 32-bit and another for the 64-bit Windows.

Office Suite

This is actually made-up of a few application programs bunched together to make a suite. The programs included are word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database and a few others depending on the type of the suite. It is not necessary to install all of the programs included, just choose what is required. Microsoft Office do offer a suite consisting of only three programs, that is the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation.

KOffice is a freeware office suite but OpenOffice is more popular and that there are other derivatives of OpenOffice as in Go-oo and OxygenOffice.

Compressing and Decompressing Program

To make uploading and downloading of file faster, it has to be shorten and hence compressed, therefore the need for compressing and decompressing program. There are many freeware programs with the letters ‘zip’ attached to it, but my favourite is 7-Zip. Not only that it can compress and decompress into and from many formats including rar (for rar file format, it only decompress), but, it is also a File Manager. Nowadays, using Windows with its GUI, a file manager may not mean very much, but in the days of DOS, it really helps a lot.

PDF Reader and Printer

Books, booklets and manuals that are found on the Internet are most likely in PDF format. So the need to have a PDF reader is a must. As for PDF printer, it will come in handy if one needs to print file in PDF format from any Windows application or when printing from a browser. My choice for PDF reader and printer are FoxitReader and doPDF respectively. Both are freeware.

Browser

It may have been included with Windows but you may prefer other browsers as in the freeware Mozilla Firefox or Opera. There are also freeware browsers that are based on the core Internet Explorer engine. They are Maxthon and Avant browsers which expand the features and functions of Internet Explorer. So, what works with IE should works with them also.

Sometimes, instead of printing the web pages to PDF files, I save the web pages in MHTML file format with the extension .mht. It’s an archive for web page by Microsoft. When I did, I’d be running Opera and not Firefox. Running Opera (or IE) enables me to save web pages in the MHTML format. Images are not saved in a separate folder but instead in the same file with the extension .mht. Everything is contained in a single file. It’s neater this way and makes maintenance easier. Just a note of caution, if you are opening this file type that you had received from someone else, do scan it prior to opening it with the browser. This is just to make sure and be safe that the file is not infected.

Paint Program

Paint or to be precise Bitmap Editing Programs are programs that enable the editing of digital photographs or graphics. These are programs that will allow you to retouch, resize or change the format of a file from one form to another. There are many other functions found in any one particular editing program, but to use all of it, really depends on your creativity. Photoshop is a popular choice for this but it is a commercial software. The alternative is to use GIMP, a popular freeware version, or Paint.NET which is much simpler but not as powerful as GIMP.

Media Player

My choice of media player is VLC media player. Not only that it can play almost anything without the need to install additional codec, but also it sounds better to my ears.

Chat Program

Text, Voice and Video, all-in-one chat programs are now the norm. Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, they all have it but I think Skype is the more popular one right now.

Utility Program

All your activities on the PC are being recorded by the Windows. Over time the Windows had made a mess out of it slowing down the PC. To keep the PC shipshape you need a utility program that will clean out the mess created. The registry file had become bloated slowing down the PC boot time. It needs to be compacted to shorten the boot time. Your browsing history has many things to tell, hence it needs to be cleared. Temporary files that are being left behind taking much disk space had to be removed and so on.

There are many freeware programs in this category to choose from. Ccleaner and Tweaknow are among them. I have yet to find a good freeware program that will compact the 64-bit Windows registry safely and efficiently. But if you are using 32-bit Windows, it should be no problem, Tweaknow practically covered them all.

Thats about all that are needed basically. For photo viewer, I think Windows Photo Viewer will suffice, at least for me. Then again its your preference. You may check on this web site for more information on the best freeware there are available. It can be found here:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/pc/home-office-tools.html

That’s all. Have a smooth and safe computing.

Update:

There’s one more area that I had missed to cover since Windows support for it is very minimal. It is the CD/DVD burner. Once again there are many freeware to choose from, each one of them has different features but for basic functions they are quite the same. You can check out InfraRecorder or StarBurn which are both freeware. My preference is InfraRecorder, Nero had became too bloated for me.

Troubleshooting PCs

This writing is not about outright fault, which is fairly easy to solve but about a system that is functioning but have a certain abnormality or intermittent fault.

If there are abnormalities in running a program or the system is running strangely unlike the usual as you know it, then something is not right. You could reinstall the offending program or if it is the system on the whole then the best thing to do, in my opinion, is to do a complete clean reinstall of the system. Yes, the OS and the application programs that are installed.

No doubt, it is good to know the problem that beset the system. But, unless you are paid to find it, it is best to do a clean install. This way you save a lot of time and if there is malware involved, it is surely gone unless it’s in the bios or somewhere in the hard disk. To get rid of those two previously mentioned annoyances, you have to reflash the bios and do a low level format of the hard disk respectively. You seldom need to do this. These are last resort if after a clean install fails to get rid of the problem.

If a system occasionally freeze or display that BOD, it is most likely hardware related. Dust collected over time on the motherboard could cause timing error, the contacts on the slots, cards and memory sticks get corroded or not enough cooling on the system especially the power supply unit.

A vacuum cleaner will suffice in sucking the dust off the motherboard but here in the tropic, the dust stuck and it is unlike what you see in a movie where they just blow off the dust. I had washed the motherboard a few times before. First I wet it, then sprayed bleach over it and after half an hour put it under tap and had water sprayed on it by closing the tap opening with my thumb. It was then left standing on it’s side a couple of days to dry. If you decide to try this, then it is at your own peril, I am just telling what I did.

Contacts get corroded over time and need to be cleaned. Usually I use alcohol but at times I do polish it with metal polisher and finish it with alcohol. It’s extreme but the shining contacts will remove any doubt about its performance.

Heat is another source to suspect. If a system is not properly cooled, after a period of operation it will become unstable. The airflow in the PC casing could be bad, the fan maybe reaching its end of life or the PC itself is situated in a place where the air circulation is bad. Blowing warm air will not cool the system sufficiently and the surrounding air will only get hotter. First to suffer will probably be the power supply because it is the hottest and had a mediocre cooling system compared to the one the CPU had. I had replaced a system in slim casing to a slightly wider casing (wider grille on the power supply). The PC is placed under the table in a small room. Although the room is air-conditioned there is not much cool air circulating underneath the table. It is sucking back it’s own hot air and the power supply had small exhaust grille. On another occasion, I had replaced a PC power supply twice in a short period of time. After the second replacement, I asked the owner what did he do with it. He said that he played game in a closed room. I told him to get it ventilated and had not heard from him since.

Besides this, you have programs that will test and check the hardware and the memory. I hardly use it anymore except for testing and checking the memory sometimes. The initial bios test is good enough and now some motherboards do include memory test option in their bios which is a good thing.