Monday, 28 March 2016

Getting closer

So I finally have a space inside for me to work on the CNCs. This is a drastic improvement over where they were. outside. Where I would freeze in winter, cook in summer and be attached by mozzies at any time of the year.

I had planned to build a set of bespoke shelves that would allow me to put the servers above the machines rather than below them as you see here. However that didn't quite work out so in order to be able to actually get these inside before it gets cold I got a pair of shelves from Super Cheap Auto in town
I have not complaints about these shelves. They are fairly solid; and while I needed to give them a few taps with the hammer to get them to clip together fully that does mean that they won't be falling apart any time soon.
Each of the pieces are fairly flimsy, but once everything is together it becomes fairly rigid and I have no problems putting as much as will fit onto these shelves as inevitably will happen.

The next thing I am looking for is an old monitor that I can connect to the computer for the Lathe so I can control it and ideally a rack mount cabinet that I can fit both of the servers in along with the switch so that the cables are a bit neater and I can put them away from any possible shavings that might be leaking out of the machines.

I have a few things coming up. We got some good photos at the Lakemac Heritage festival so I will be sharing those. These CNCs will be running again very soon and I have a few things I would like to make with them that might actually happen now. And I have a Hard drive that I have been asked to destroy for data security so I will go through the details of construction with that.


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

There's the right way, then there's my way.

Sometimes you just can't do things the "right" way straight off the bat.
This is a great example of that. I've been trying to get Jerry (The NAS server) working so we can share files among our LAN. Unfortunately the RAID card in there doesn't like to play nicely with *BSD so I've gone back to Linux which I know. And has drivers for the card.

Unfortunately I couldn't find an easy way to boot from the USB drive that FreeNAS was using. So I had to use a normal Hard Drive. The only one I had spare with SATA was a little 2.5" laptop drive. That is fine, except I don't have 2.5" caddys for the bays in the front and I can't see any other spots to put this. So I've attached it to the backplane and you can see to do that it couldn't be sitting right on the bottom of the tray. However if I left it like that there could be problems with dust or rodents. So I slipped a normal caddy in, lifting up the front of the drive a little to slide it under.
Hmmm, a bit sketchy, but it let me test this idea without spending money or stupid amounts of time on it.

It's in the bottom tray here, just before I boot to test this. The middle caddy has my big drive and is unplugged to make sure it doesn't cause issues. The top one is just a blanking caddy.

So sometimes you can get away with doing something without having everything perfect. So don't let the fact that it's not the best way to do something don't let it stop you from doing it.


Saturday, 5 March 2016

Nathan's Computer Benchmarks

In may last post about Nathan's Computer I promised to share some quick benchmarks and thoughts about the build. So here they are, I'll start with the benchmarks. I just used Cinebench because that's a name I remembered and I wanted to see how fast the 8 threads would go through the picture on the CPU test. For monitoring temperatures I used Speedfan because I've used it a lot in the past.

 This was right after we got everything working before playing around with drivers or graphics cards. A respectable score for the CPU of 369. A reasonable improvement over my laptop.

Here we also tested the GPU, a GeForce GT730. This was the one that we ordered before finding the case with some stuff in it. The framerate of 30.39 is pretty close to 10x what my laptop scored.

And here we see the final configuration. The GTX550 that was in the case Nathan found. As we can see the score is nearly twice what the GT730 got so that was the card we left in this machine.

All the time these benchmark were running I was watching the CPU temp with Speedfan. I don't have any screenshots there, but none of the cores really went above the mid 60 degrees C.  These temps are much, much better than I have been used to with my laptop over the last few years and almost makes me want to build a personal desktop machine so I don't have to worry about the system killing itself when there is a constant high load. The cooler we used was a Deepcool Gammaxx 300 I was a bit nervous about having such a big heatsink hanging off the motherboard without any bolts going through. However if you don't push on the actual cooler itself then it seems to stay on fine. If there are problems however I'm sure we can find a solution at the hardware store.

If I were to do this again would I change anything? Probably not. However I probably would've looked longer for a motherboard. While the one we got was good and had everything we needed it is a custom HP part and doesn't have a standard power socket pinout or any labeled power switch pins. Eventually I did find solutions to each of these problems but it took a lot of searching. Because not many people are buying the motherboard out of a HP z400 to stick it in a completely different system without any of the HP stuff. So going down that route can cause headaches.

All in all I think it has been a good project and Nathan seems to be happy with this machine so far. If you would like to see some of the other projects I have on the go at the moment follow this link to my Projects page which I keep updated with the status of my other projects.

Speaking of other projects, now that this is finished I'll have to start on something else. Or perhaps finish building the shelves for the CNCs so I can do some more work on them.


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Nathan's Computer: The conclusion

So the computer I have been building for my younger brother Nathan is now finished. He now has it at his home and is finalising the driver install and starting to set up the games that we actually built this machine for. We managed to save quite a bit of money by finding a case which actually had nearly everything we need inside it.

It was a little grotty but we needed a case and DVD drive. While we also didn't need anything else that was in the case we made good use of it because it brought the total system cost down for Nathan. In the end we had ordered RAM, a Power Supply Unit and a graphics card that we ended up using from this machine because the ones in here were better than what had been ordered.

Unfortunately it was very dirty and dusty. We tipped it up on end and all this fell out onto my nice, clean(ish) carpet. Luckily I had Nathan there to help me, so after removing everything from the case he cleaned it all with the vacuum cleaner and did a fairly good job of it I must say.

We were very, very excited when we found this. There was a total of 16GB of RAM in the case. Somewhat more than we had expected to be putting in there right away. So right off the bat Nathan got a RAM upgrade. Also a PSU upgrade as the one in the case was about 100W bigger and had other comparable specs. Also a massive graphics card upgrade. Comparing the GT730 we had bought and the GTX550 that we found there was just about an exact doubling of the Cinebench OpenGL test. From 30 FPS to 60 FPS. It was a huge improvement.

This is how we tested the system initially. If my experience building computer has taught me anything, is that test at every possible point. In this case we tested with the absolute minimum of parts in the machine. RAM, PSU, CPU, CPU Cooler and Graphics card.

Unfortunately I got a bit excited and forgot to take a picture of the first POST screen. Suffice to say that it POSTed and I was very happy and there was much rejoicing.

After that we put everything in and got windows installed. Another very happy moment.
You may have noticed a funny circle in the front of the case:

This is actually a fan controller/temperature monitor that runs from 12V pulled from a molex connector on the power supply and (we guessed) 5V from a funny shaped connector neither of us recognise, let alone have attached to the PSU. So I did what I'm good at and came up with a solution. I cut the funny plug off then soldered the wires onto the 5V going to the power light. I checked the current draw on this when we tested that it was actually 5V using my benchtop power supply and the current draw was not registering on the scale, so less than 0.5 mA which I was quite happy to pull from just about anywhere.
The astute amongst you will notice that the above picture is showing an adapter for 20pin ATX power supplies to drive 24pin ATX motherboards. I had this lying around from another project that I ended up doing the right thing and buying a new PSU for.

The tricky thing about buying parts off ebay is that they may not always work together. The motherboard is from a HP Z400 workstation which looked fine on paper. However initially it wouldn't POST. This is because HP decided to use +12V on some of the pins of the 24pin plug where the ATX standard that everyone else uses at +5V and +3.3V. Not very useful. So I had to splice in this adapter that I already had to a molex Y-splitter so we can get the extra +12V power.
This is what it looked like before installation.

And here we see it in situ.

So there you have it, the build is finished and tested. In the next few days I will do another post detailing the parts list, final cost and some benchmarks (also some thoughts on that parts I used) so keep an eye out for those if you are interested.

If you want more detail on how to build a computer let me know. I have another build coming up in the next few weeks that won't be as crazy as this one but will still give me an opportunity to show how it's done in great detail.