cheshirecat: retirement at last?

When I left home for college, I planned to take my heavily, hackily upgraded 386 (actualy a Cyrix Cx486DLC) along with me. It had two full-height ESDI hard drives, and the weird, exposed ribbon cable on the back of one broke about two weeks before I left home. I quickly sold a bunch of things I owned, begged some cash from my dad, and purchased an AT&T mid-tower (a Globalyst, which later became an NCR line). This Pentium 90MHz, marvin, lasted through most of college, and was finally replaced by a Compaq that looked good in the store but turned out to be a real pain.

I didn’t replace that until I’d gotten out of college and had a decent job. I slowly saved up and bought each component one by one, in order of speed of devaluation: case first, power supply, and so on, ending with the RAM. The machine I built was a dual Athlon MP 1600 box in a totally sweet Lian-Li 60 case. It also took insanely expensive buffered EEC RAM, which remains insanely expensive to this day.

I’ve upgraded it once or twice since then, but only by replacing its drives. A few years ago I put in two 250 GB drives and made a RAID1. (I had to place two orders for these: the first time I accidentally ordered SATA, forgetting that nobody did PATA drives anymore.)

Maybe it’s because all I ever did was compile and test code, but the box is still blazing fast. It also might help that my frames of reference for speed are pretty much locked in to where they were in 1996 or so.

Unfortunately, I needed to upgrade it some more. I was nearly out of space on the drives. I could get bigger drives, but I’d have to upgrade to SATA. Maybe it was time to get a NAS box?

I agonized over all my options for well over a year. I know that’s ridiculous, but I tend to do that over nearly any choice where I think I have a chance of agonizing my way into a better decision. I looked at LinkStation, ReadyNAS, AirPort’s disk sharing, Drobo, and all kinds of other stuff.

I won’t recount all my boring concerns, but eventually I decided that I’d be perfectly happy with one big drive attached to a computer and rsynced every few days to another big drive elsewhere. Cheap, low tech, and perfectly effective given the kind of data I was storing.

I ordered two USB 1T drives (later it turns out I only needed one of them to be in an enclosure) and an MSI Wind PC. I played around for quite a while trying to make the Wind boot from an SD card with Ubuntu or from an external USB drive running Ubuntu, but GRUB kept giving me grief. Finally, I disassembled one of my enclosures and shoved the drive in the case. Problem solved.

This little box replaces both my gigantor server, cheshirecat and our disused Linux workstation, plumcake, and is now the new plumcake. So far, I’m very happy with it.

Here is the big win: noise. That Lian-Li case had about seven fans in it, at least half of them big 80mm beasts. The MSI Wind PC has a single fan of maybe 35mm. It runs nearly silently. I can actually hear what’s going on in my house, now when sitting in my office. It is an amazing difference.

It will be sad to see cheshire go, as it has been an extremely good computer, but it’s just not pulling its weight. Or, maybe more importantly, it doesn’t justify the amount of noise it produces.

I’m just a little bummed that I couldn’t do what I really wanted, which was to use a really small machine in place of the Wind. I wanted something about the size of a pack of cigarettes that would boot and run sshd and samba and that would be about it. It looked like that was just going to be a bit more of a pain than I wanted to deal with. Maybe in a few more years…

Written on March 22, 2009
⚙️ hardware