PC Hardware

Linux Box

I recently built a Linux PC because I decided I wanted to try and play games on Linux with the increase in the number of available games. In addition, Steam is available on Linux and I wanted to try Crossover, the software that uses Wine to run apps and play games on the Mac and Linux, on a Linux box since I have only previously tested and used it on the Mac. I used a Dell Optiplex 780 SFF and had no troubles loading Fedora Core 19. I went with the x64 load and put 16 GB of RAM in it because that is the most the PC could hold. With video cards your options are limited in a SFF PC, so I started with an Nvidia GT 620 video card but later moved to an AMD 7750 after I found this awesome card in a LP configuration on Amazon here. Neither video card had any problems in Linux.

I found that Crossover actually works much better on Linux than Mac OS. More of the games I test with Crossover work with Linux. And Linux plays games much faster. I loaded Unity of Command on Linux, and although I could not get the sound to work, it works much faster between turns.

So I am enjoying my gaming and playing around with Linux. The SFF PC is small but works great and this gives me an excuse to mess around more with Linux. Not as user friendly as Windows or Mac, but more control and less baggage for you. Give Linux a shot if you haven’t yet.

Dell Optiplex 755 Followup

I received the 3 computers from Overstock.com and am happy to report they all worked just fine. These latest computer also appeared to be in better cosmetic condition than the ones I purchased from Buy.com. They are also from U.S. Micro though.

One problem I found in having to reload them was that Dell’s website is missing an XP driver for the SM Bus controller. I didn’t worry about this at first because the computers worked fine, but I had a USB device connected to one computer that would not work properly. After some searching I found the solution to the missing driver problem. Do a Google search for Intel INF Update Utility and select the second link to go to the Intel download site. The first download choice on the page is “INF Update Utility – Primarily for Intel 6, 5, 4, 3, 900 series Chipsets”. Download this utility and run it and it will update several chipset drivers and load a driver for the SM Bus Controller. After running the utility my USB device loaded a couple more drivers and then showed up properly in Device Manager.

Dell Optiplex 755 Refurbished

I received an email several weeks ago from Buy.com advertising many older Dell models refurbished on sale. Some of these systems came with Windows XP which I needed for better compatibility with some of our apps. I settled on the Optiplex 755 model because I liked the small form factor to fit in tight spaces and it ranged in price between around $250 – 350 depending on the specs and if it included a monitor. I also decided to stick with one model so I could make a base image to save time getting other similar PCs ready to deploy.

Although these systems are advertised as refurbished, I thought it was interesting than one reviewer described them as “used.” These are off lease computers around 3 years old (I checked the date on the hard drives) and the exterior of the systems were a little beat up. But I reloaded XP and both units I bought are functioning just fine. These systems came with a 60 day warranty from the distributor U.S. Micro. As long as only the hard drives go out I figure I’m fine (remember I have a disk image for quick reload).

I checked Buy.com a few days ago, but they were sold out of all the different units including Optiplex 745 and 760 models. I did some searching and found similar deals at Overstock.com. I purchased 3 more systems from them so I will see in the next few days if they are from the same distributor. At these prices, I think if you need some cheap Windows XP systems with decent specs (dual core, minimum 1 GB RAM, minimum 80 GB hard drive) you might want to take a chance on these systems.


I needed a second NIC card for a new office PC to connect it to a panoramic digital x-ray. The PC I had was a Dell Vostro 230 Slim. It runs Windows 7 Pro 64-bit. After searching online sites for a while I found some good reviews for StarTech’s ST100SLP PCI NIC. One person said he put it in a PC and Windows 7 and Linux just recognized it. Since the card was cheap in price I went ahead and purchased it. I plugged it in a free PCI slot on the Dell and just like the reviewer said Windows 7 loaded a driver for it. The card is 10/100 and also comes with a full size bracket for normal size PCs. It available from online resellers such as Amazon, Buy.com, and NewEgg.

Western Digital Customer Loyalty Program

I came across this program while checking the warranty status of a bad hard drive. The hard drive was not under warranty, but Western Digital’s website pointed me to their upgrade program for hard drives. Whether the hard drive is under warranty still or not you can receive a discount toward a new hard drive directly from Western Digital. All you need is a valid hard drive serial number; you don’t even have to send in the old / bad drive. If the drive is still under warranty, however, the warranty on the old drive is voided. Also, you can only upgrade the same type of drive: internal for internal, external for external.

I checked the prices on these upgrade drives and they were $10 or more cheaper than prices at newegg.com or buy.com.  I opted for a 1 TB Caviar Black and it cost $79.99 plus tax and shipping. I think this is a good program because it gives you an option for replacing an out of warranty drive at a discount.

“But I just need a replacement power adapter…”

After less than 10 months, the power adapter for my Mac Book Pro decided to quit working.  I was alerted to this fact last week when my Mac suddenly made the low battery sound (under an XP VM), which I thought was odd since I had the power adapter plugged in.  Well the light on the power adapter was off, which I had only seen before when it wasn’t plugged into the Mac.  I felt the white box part of the adapter and it was pretty dang hot.  So a let it cool off and tried it again – nada.  I gave it one more shot with the 2 prong plug on the adapter instead of the 3 prong cord, but still nothing.  I then grabbed the Mac Book adapter from my son’s Mac and it began charging my Mac, although probably a little slower than normal (60W vs. 85W for the MBP adapter).

I finally called for help last night (I’ve been trying to get over a nasty cold for a week) and I started with Best Buy since I had a service plan through them for the Mac.  After talking with a nice Indian man, he let me know that I needed to speak with Apple since the Mac was still under the original manufacturer’s warranty period.  He was even nice enough to give me Apple’s number.

So I called Apple and talked to a support rep who, after I gave him my name and serial number (for the Mac of course),  informed me that my warranty was up in 2 months and my phone support had ended 250+ days ago (I guess he must get a lot of people calling with no phone support or something).  “But I just need a replacement power adapter,” I said. So he got some more information from me, then tried to sell me an Apple support plan (at least he asked me if I had one through BB first) because, with an Apple support plan you get unlimited phone support or something (I didn’t want to tell the guy that, being a somewhat successful computer professional, the only time I would be calling would be for a hardware problem, like this one.  For all I know though, maybe they charge you to troubleshoot that stuff too).  Luckily I had done all of the troubleshooting for him.  I informed him of all of my steps and success with another adapter.  He told me they had some battery department that handled my type of call, but then came back from hold and said he would take care of it for me (battery dept. probably told him that since I had already done all of the troubleshooting, they wouldn’t be needed for this call).  Anyway, he informed me about the usual swap deal where I had to give them a credit card to ctb in case I didn’t send back the bad part.  We went through the drill and he said I would be receiving an email with all of the particulars (which I did shortly thereafter).

Lesson here is, always do as much troubleshooting yourself first and your support calls will (usually) go much faster.  Overall I was fine with both support people since BB went out of their way to give me Apple’s number an Apple took care of me pretty quickly.  Kudos all around.

Buffalo External Blu-Ray Drive

I finally had a chance to try out my new Buffalo BR-816SU2 MediaStation 8x External Blu-ray Writer.  I purchased this one instead of the cheaper 6X model after reading user reviews.  They complained about the software suite that came with the 6X (Nero 8.0) and how you were supposed to be able to download a plug-in to watch Blu-Ray movies, but since Nero is now on version 9 the plug-in for 8 is no longer available.  If I needed to spend $80+ more for either software to watch Blu-Ray movies or a whole new Nero suite, I figured I may as well buy a little better drive.

The 8X model I bought comes with a Cyberlink software suite.  I’ve used PowerDVD before but never any of Cyberlink’s other programs like disc-burning.  I only installed PowerDVD and thePower2Go burning software.  I was worried about the Power2Go co-existing with my Nero 7 software I use for DVD burning, but I haven’t had any problems and use each program for its particular drive.

The Power2Go software is pretty basic, but it works and I already burned 2 discs successfully.  It installs a quick launch column on your desktop where you can drag files to or open a particular type of burning (data, audio, etc).  The column only gives you a percentage count during the burn process, but its a good enough indicator of progress.

The drive can be mounted horizontally like normal or on its side.  Buffalo included an eject button on the side (which is on the top if the drive is sideways) which is a nice touch.  They also included an E-SATA adapter (the drive supports USB and E-SATA) which you can plug into an internal SATA port.  Its a $7 retail part, but again, thanks for saving me the time and money to not have to buy the part separately.  I had no problems installing the adapter and connecting the drive.

If you need an external Blu-Ray burner, this is a nice drive.  It was easy to install, the software works, and it includes some nice touches.

HP 2840 AIO Color Laserjet not for Vista

I recently bought an HP 2840 AIO Color Laserjet from Office Depot on clearance.  It came with 2 CDs, one for Windows and one for the Mac.  I tried the one for Windows on my Vista PC, but the software was only for XP or lower.  So I downloaded the Vista drivers only and Vista software.  I’ve never liked HP’s full software installs because they usually don’t let you do a “custom” install, allowing the user to choose what software to install.  But I guess enough people complained because HP seems to be allowing custom installs on at least some of their printers.

Anyway, I figured I’d give the Vista software a shot because I had read something about scanning over the network (I connected the HP directly to my network).  So I preceded with the install, receiving the ability to either install drivers only or all software (not quite custom, but an improvement).  I went with drivers only and got through without any problems.  Afterward I was able to print and scan to the HP from Vista.

However I wondered about faxing over the network, so I decided to first do a full install to XP in case I didn’t like it.  Everything installed fine and I was able to print, scan, and fax over the network from XP.  So, not letting a good thing stay good, I decided to install all the software to Vista.  This ended breaking everything.  Now I couldn’t print, scan, or fax.  I went online and read people complaining about the shoddy Vista support, and now I saw why.

Next step – to remove all software from Vista and try the drivers only install.  The uninstall worked (although I was annoyed that every time I ran the software it insisted on a reboot afterward – completely ridiculous).  The drivers only download install unfortunately was only for a USB connection and had no network support option, so it met the Recycle Bin.  Round and round we go back to square one.

So I reran the software install, making my original choice again of drivers only and ended up with print and scan support working.  Only thing that needed tweaking was Acrobat.  When scanning, I chose the WIA – HP Laserjet 2840 driver but also had to go to Scanner Options and under User Interface choose “Show Scanner’s Native Interface.”  I also downloaded a firmware update which works through the print driver, so make sure you can print before doing this, otherwise it won’t work (like it did for me when I tried it after I futzed up everything in Vista).

Funny aside to all of this was the Mac install.  The Mac disk actually only supported through 10.4 (Tiger) but installed on my 10.5 Mac Book Pro.  Too bad scanning and faxing were grayed out.  Back to the Internet for more updated drivers.  At least the Leopard software worked as well as the XP load did (not like Vista).  I had full print, scan, and faxing capabilities (makes me want to tell people complaining about Vista support to switch to a Mac).

I haven’t used the printer too much, but a printed some scans of a 90 year old document for my son and they looked amazing.  I think I’m going to enjoy this AIO device.

Asus Motherboard with Linux Boot ROM

I just read about this in Dvorak’s Inside Track column in the August, 2008 issue of PC Magazine.  It’s officially called Asus Express Gate.  ComputerHope.com says it’s “[t]echnology developed by ASUS and introduced with their PSE3 motherboard that utilizes Splashtop, a Linux environment that is integrated onto the motherboard. With this technology users can turn on their computer and in five seconds be able to access the Internet using Firefox, online applications such as e-mail, Skype and the Splashtop desktop without having to wait for their operating system to load.”

Sure, it’s not a full-fledged OS, but for some quick Internet tasks, it’s hard to beat the load time.  It’s also a great step toward having a fully-loaded OS like Linux in a small package with instant accessibility.  It would be interesting to know what Microsoft thinks of this.