Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Challenge of the itty-bitty computer

Having successfully upgraded my wife’s old computer into a Windows Home Server and then, buoyed by my success in that area, having gone on to build a Windows 7 computer for my mother-in-law, my heart was at ease. I had conquered worlds. I had learned new curse words, words which had, up until that point, only had a shadowy theoretical sort of existence. I had been a successful computer builder.

But as with the rich fool in Luke 12 verses 16 through 21, who said, “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones,” I keep pushing for something more. My eyes kept sweeping over the web sites of New Egg,, and TigerDirect. I was looking for trouble. Seek and ye shall find, as the Good Book says.

It all begins with a motherboard. And I will continue calling them motherboards. Calling them System boards dehumanizes further an already technical field. The Big Motherboards are denoted by ATX. This hearkens back to the old AT computers if you are old enough to remember them. The ATX motherboard represents the first step forward from them. These boards are somewhat largish at 12 inches by 9.6 inches. The motherboard I removed from my mother-in-law’s old IBM was an ATX. A micro-ATX (mATX) motherboard at 9.6 inches square is smaller and easier to deal with.

Imagine my joy when I discovered the mini-ITX motherboard which is 6.7 inches square. Imagine my joy as well when I discovered that I could get it from New Egg along with a CPU for $69. Extend your imagination to unbounded possibilities by thinking what I might do if I also came upon a mini-ITX case with a power supply for $49.99. Then, and you are NOT going to believe this, imagine me finding one gigabyte of compatible memory for $19. Put this together with the knowledge that I have a leftover one terabyte SATA hard drive that is just setting around.

Yes, you are there aren’t you? You know what is going to happen. It’s like in the teen horror flick when the scantily clad teenagers are alone in the boat house. Not only will they get naked, not only will they have sex, but they will also be pinned together with a harpoon while their bodies are still entwined.

I ordered all of the parts immediately because who could imagine making any sort of computer that cheap, and this one will be so small and cute to boot.

The question that the experienced will ask at this point is obvious. It is so obvious not only do they know to ask it, they know the solution. The questions is: what about the operating system. You forgot to include it in your calculations. It is easy to do and any of the versions of Windows floating around will likely cost more than all of these parts put together. But this is the beautiful part. Ubuntu Linux is free. Furthermore, all of the cool young Geeks worship at the throne of Linux.

If I build an Ubuntu box, then I will be young like them. My hair will turn once again dark. The aching in my joints will go away.

The case for this is red by the way. It all becomes rather clear that this computer building mania I am going through is a mid-life crisis. Better a computer than a Corvette; better Ubuntu than a blond.

I will keep you posted as matters develop.

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