Building the Ultimate Linux Box
Like many hackers of a certain age, I imprinted on the IBM Model M keyboard about 20 years ago. They have a relatively stiff travel with a sharp break and a positive keyclick that can only be described as crunchy. They inspire cult-like devotion. It's still possible to buy the real Model M, armor-plated case and all. They're not being manufactured anymore, but old stocks are still being sold. You want these IBM model numbers: 42H1292 (IBM 101-key, buckling-spring keyboard) and 1393278 (IBM SpaceSaver compact, heavy-duty 84 keyboard). They're both available from Unicomp. The dream system will get one of the 101-key PC-2 versions.
For my own use, I'll keep my original three-button Logitech TrackMan Marble. Sadly, Logitech doesn't make the original Marble any more; the replacement has a rather obtrusive wheel replacing the middle button.
There is only one possible modem for the dream system: the US Robotics V.Everything, external version. This featureful, rock-solid, reliable modem is the first choice of discriminating hackers everywhere. Rick has written an entertaining rant on the likely consequences of choosing lesser external modems, or any internal modem at all.
The floppy drive is a relic of the age before bootable CD-ROMs. Occasionally you'll want one for booting up diagnostic software. A plain old TEAC 1.44 3.5" drive will do.
Oh, yes, the software. I realize that the topic of favorite Linux distribution is a religious war, but I can't resist putting in a plug for my own favorite: KRUD Linux from Kevin Fenzi and the good folks at tummy.com. Subscribing to KRUD gives you a Red Hat base plus a monthly update, including all security fixes and a tasty selection of additional programs and tools.
We have two SCSI controllers. That's good, because we also have both LVD and single-ended SCSI devices in our parts list. Daryll observes:
LVD drives can drive the bus at 40MHz and 80MHz, whereas single-ended cannot. If you mix single-ended and LVD, the bus degrades to single-ended. So a bus with a single-ended device tops out at 20MHz Wide SCSI or 40MB/s, whereas LVD gets you up to 160MB/s.
Thus, we want to assemble the dream machine with two SCSI chains: a high-speed wide/LVD chain for the hard drives and tape, and a low-speed narrow/single-end chain for the CD-RW and DVD-ROM. We used an SM-20 from The Mate Company to convert the second motherboard channel to 50-pin narrow SCSI.
Because the hard drives are likely to be significant heat generators, we mount them with the spare internal bay between them, rather than stacking them in adjacent drive bays, to get better airflow.
The Antec case makes it possible to mount the intake fan directly in front of the hard disks. Normally, with drives in this class, the drives and the bay enclosure become uncomfortably hot to the touch; with this setup, the warmth is barely noticeable. This is a good thing because it probably extends the expected lifetime of the drives significantly. Another fan near the power supply at the rear helps pull air out of the machine. We ended up mounting a third fan because we noticed the memory chips seemed to be running hot.
We'll have two expansion cards in the machine, the SoundBlaster Live! and the Radeon. The Radeon will probably tend to run hot, the SoundBlaster not. Happily, the Radeon lives in the AGP slot at the upper end of the slot row, where the air it heats will be sucked into the two rear fans.
How does our noise budget look? IBM says our UltraStars emit 48dBA each, PCP & C says the power supply emits 44dBA and the fans 20dBA each, and Tom's Hardware rated the Silverado at 37dBA (but there are two). Applying the logarithmic-sum formula gives us 52dBA as the level of interior noise. Assuming the case blocks 8dB, that will leave us with an exterior noise level of 44dBA adjacent to the case. We can trim another 5dB or so by putting the machine desk-side.
Recalculating with four or five case fans barely nudges the second decimal place in the total. This means that in case our initial burn-in reveals a heat problem; we've got room to cool things down without making the machine substantially noisier.
Gary Sandine and John Pearson at Los Alamos Computers undertook to assemble my Ultimate Linux Box; in fact, they assembled two, one for me and one for Linus Torvalds. They solicited the vendors on our list for donations of parts, and their courage was rewarded when IBM generously volunteered $15,000 for the project budget.
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