Hack! Upgrade! Modify! Tinker!

When I was but a wee geek lad, I remembered happy weekends spent tinkering with my wonderful geek toys, learning what they could do, finding new programs for them, or writing my own. Cloudy rainy days were perfect times to spend 40 hours straight in the basement, fiddling around with my Franklin Ace, or playing Wizardry.
Looking back on that now, I realized those many hours were spent with no external communication other than an occasional phone call. I wasn’t on IRC, or chatting via IM or even really doing more than one thing at a time. One program, one computer, one task. I boggle at that now, wondering how it held my attention.
yawlToday I’m getting an echo of those times. My primary desktop machine, yawl, has been getting my squinty-eye look. Normally I consider machines fairly static, hardware wise. Upgrading, tinkering, modifying, and improving are limited to basic things like “I’m out of memory, I need more.” But in looking at yawls performance, I decided that the machine could do with some tuning.
The first thing that was needed was a kernel modification. I was getting sound stuttering and abysmal network performance with my Linux 2.6.16 kernel as delivered by Debian Etch. Some research on the net showed that this is frequently cause by the kernel not running in ‘pre-emptive’ mode. A newly downloaded kernel, a make-kpkg and dpkg -i later, and I had a machine that was much more responsive and not prone to stuttering when moving large files around on the network.
“Right!” said I. What’s next? Wellll, I had already upgaded the machine from the stock 512meg to 2gig. When running huge environments like Eclipse + JBoss, coupled with the voracious Firefox, things can get filled up pretty fast. This machine only supports 2gig of memory, so I can’t really go past that (though there are bugs in KDE, specifically in the tool ‘korgac’ that are showing massive memory leaks – if I do not shut down korgac manually before I go to bed, I’m out of memory in the morning. It’s that bad). So I had to look elsewhere.
The Dell GX-260 has a pretty abysmal video system, using an embedded Intel VGA board. While I got it running under X at 1280×1024, it wasn’t as zippy as I wanted, and I really wanted decent GL performance so I could tinker with XGL. The Intel board simply could not do it.
Off (virtually) to Newegg where I ordered a new nVidia GeForce2 6200 card for a whopping $44. It needed to be half-height (since yawl is a small formfactor machine), and this morning, I happily installed it into the machine. Installation was a snap, but then I faced… THE DREADED KERNEL CONFIG.
Now, okay, it’s not THAT bad. But nVidia support in Debian etch is not as streamlined as it could be. As I type, the kernel has just finished rebuilding, with the nVidia modules built as well. In a few minutes, I’ll hit the the reboot, and we’ll see if the new drivers work.
Beyond that? A new hard drive might make sense. With all the intense loading and unloading I’m doing, the WD 20gig drive I’m using really isn’t scaled for this sort of use. A 10,000 RPM drive with a large buffer would probably be a huge improvement.
Tinkering. With my machine. To make it better. I feel like all the mod-hackers that tinker with their machines day in and day out, overclocking, modifying, and scurrying around for parts to get the best performance out of their machine. I used to think that “The CPU was it. Fast CPU = Fast machine.” Yawl has a 2.26gig P4 in it. But it needs good support to run at speed.
This is fun.


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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