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"INFINITY" - A tale of many fans.


I've been working with computer hardware for over twenty years, and even though some people would gladly flee the wretched things at the end of the day, I have always been happy to come home to more. I've never been able to afford what I'd choose in an off-the-shelf system, and so for the last ten years I've built all my home systems from whatever components I could beg, borrow, swap or even (as a last resort) pay for.

The plan was that this would be my last big PC, and one modelled as closely as I could manage on the Compaq/NT big-iron I build for a living - I wanted server levels of performance and reliability, but on much tighter purse-strings than I enjoy at work.. although the original £1000 budgeted has probably doubled or trebled with later upgrades, and with hindsight I could have bought a small Proliant if I'd saved up instead…

I usually manage to eke every last month of useful lifespan from my homebrew systems, so was still using a tweaked 486/100 when most had moved to Pentiums, and a slightly-overclocked Pentium 200 when IIs and IIIs were the norm. So, I hoped that this system would last around three or four years with careful upgrades, until some of the promised integration technology appeared: I envisioned a featureless cube hidden under the desk, with wireless interfaces to network, storage, display and I/O… Well, most of that is still a few years away yet, but with an occasional wave of upgrades I think it might possibly last the distance.

In the spring of 2000, when I was pondering over the hardware spec, twin CPUs seemed to be the way I wanted to go. Nearly all of the servers I've built and managed in the last few years have been duals or quads at least, and I was getting very used to the responsiveness and even performance under load. I'm an occasional (but impatient!) Photoshop user, too, and as one of the few SMP-aware apps at the time it also nudged me towards a dual system.


This limited my choice of motherboards straight away, but I'd recently installed a new board in Ros's PC and we'd chosen a SuperMicro as having a good specification for it's relatively modest price - having installed it, I was impressed with it's performance and quality, and their P6DBE SMP board was getting equally good reviews online.

The dual processor approach was a threat to the budget, though, and in the end I chose to compromise on clock speed and hope that, as intimated, the motherboard would support most or all subsequent PIII CPUs - and this does seem to be the case, with a recent addendum on the manufacturer's site stating that the new gigahertz chips are now supported. [Update] The older Slot format CPUs are rare and unappealingly expensive at these fast clock speeds, unfortunately, but the upgrade would really bring a noticeable performance boost - especially with DirectX games, where a single 500MHz CPU is certainly not feeding coordinate pairs to the Radeon nearly as fast as the latter can cope with.

I was determined that the case would be capacious enough to hold not only the over-sized dual slot motherboard, but a full I/O subsystems's worth of drives, extras, add-ons, upgrades, expansions and whatnots. The demands of a limited hardware budget mean that usually have to add extra hard disks rather than replacing them with larger ones, for example, and my PCs are usually decidedly overcrowded by the time they reach the end of their lifespan. The SuperMicro SC-750a was getting excellent reviews as a capacious overclocker's or power-user's case, and it seemed wise to mate motherboard and case from the same manufacturer. In the end, of course, there were just as many installation quirks and poorly-fitting hardware oddments as with my previous mix-and-match systems.

 

 

The first incarnation - Spring 2000.

 

Click here for the current system specs

 

Update Summer 2002 - INFINITY2, The Emperor's New Clothes