Monday, November 06, 2006

Current home network config

I've had a home network of 3-5 machines set up since 1999, when the terms network and networking were still largely confined to the enterprise workplace, not at home. Nowadays, they're virtually ubiquitous.

I starting home networking in 1995 with a mere null-modem serial cable b/w two PCs running Windows 95 using NetBEUI and sometimes IPX/SPX, mainly for gaming. Everyone remembers NetBEUI, right? Yeah, it was unroutable and very mundane compared to TCP/IP, but it was more than adequate for two machines or even a cluster of machines in a workgroup.

Anyway, this is currently my basic home network layout. I'm coming to the wireless table late, but I'm in no hurry to switch everything over to wireless right now. Just client machines for the time being.

New notebook, finally

This is basically a continuation of the previous post as it concerns a new laptop. Ya see, when it comes to possessing a laptop, or a newer more modern laptop in my case, unlike the desktop/tower box arena, you have to go with an OEM machine. Yes, it’s possible to build a laptop from scratch about like it’s possible to build a car from scratch, but I, as do most folk just don’t have that much time not to mention skills required to engineer and construct a custom laptop. My previous laptop was a Gateway Solo 1100 that initially had Windows 98 SE on it, but I had years ago installed Windows 2000 Professional and the corresponding Win32 drivers required for the SoundMAX integrated audio and NeoMagic NM2160D integrated video. But it works quite well, yes it STILL works. The only hardware that has been replaced on it is the original 4GB IBM harddisk. And several important keys on the keyboard became dysfunctional when a drink was spilled upon the counter. To remedy the harddisk, I bought a replacement 10GB IBM TravelStar harddisk from Priority Electronics back in May 2004 and reinstalled Win2k and not had any problems since then. I haven’t bought a replacement keyboard since those run around $80 give or take at various and sundry vendors and because of the age of the machine. Instead, I’ve opted to connect a wireless fullsize keyboard I had lying around unused into its one PS/2 port and install the driver. Works like a charm.

The overriding issue with the Solo 1100, and the main impetus to purchasing a new laptop, is its age (circa 2000) and therefore it’s overall sluggishness with today's apps. I’ll probably end up installing FreeBSD on it eventually.

So, I shopped around for a new notebook recently before Halloween to take it’s place. I decided on the HP DV9008nr from BestBuy. It’s not a hardcore gaming lapper by any means, true, but it’s all I need or want in a notebook; besides, I game almost exclusively on the desktop. I do like the 17in. display, however ;). Needless to say, I’m quite happy with the assorted hardware, being pretty much exactly what I want and/or need, nothing more, nothing less. However, one big negative is that the notebook came pre-installed with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. There’s a number of reasons I would’ve preferred XP Professional, but the most significant reason is that it cannot join an active directory domain without modification. Since I’m not one to forgo modifications, especially if required, I did just that. I performed the well-known registry hack to make that possible and I’m good to go there. The LightScribe-capable DVD writer is nice but it wasn’t a must-have feature; nevertheless, the labeling works as advertised. It does, however, take an average of 15-25 minutes or so to fully burn a label, depending on the amount of solid black required for the grayscale image being used as a label. Not bad, though.

The one additional negative with the machine, besides the XP MCE OS, as with just about all OEM machines, be they desktops or notebooks, is the glob of software that’s pre-installed. I’ve never had to deal with that in the desktop arena since the 386 era because I’ve always built my own, but with a notebook it’s a pain. So I had to uninstall most of the crap for my purposes and install some of my own software also, of course. PuTTY was one of my first installations since I continually need to SSH to my FreeBSD boxes and that’s been for many years my main tool for doing it. That, and I use WinSCP periodically as well.

Overrall, I’m quite content with this notebook and so far have not found any defective hardware and no crashes so far ;). I always worry about such things when a notebook is involved because the entire machine has to be shipped off to be worked on.

PCs on the cheap

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much for a genuinely cheaper priced PC as anyone else, but the trend I’ve noticed since at least the dawn of the new millennium is not simply cheap PCs but pre-baked PCs with no accompanying manuals for the mobos, no software media, or anything else other than what’s imaged on the harddisk from the factory. Yes, some manuals may be included as PDFs on a system CD/DVD, but that’s about it. Oh yeah, that’s right, what system CD/DVD? You have to burn your own these days. Also, although sound and/or video integrated mobos have always been somewhat common in OEM machines, those CHEAPER PCs by contrast are virtually all built with fully integrated audio and in some cases (crap) integrated video circuitry on the mobo as well as the lack of the aforementioned items. The mobos are the lowest of the low-cost mobos that are usually tailored to a specific OEM, in fact. Surprise!

And speaking of the dearth of software media, the operating system, drivers, and pre-installed application software are not discrete packages on their own media, be it CDs or DVDs. You basically get a pre-fab’d machine with preset apps and OS and you then burn some recovery CDs or DVDs that are supposed to restore your machine to it’s initial state. Why not reduce the price even more by not installing a damn thing on the machine and let the consumer handle that aspect entirely? Then, I’d agree that PCs are really, really CHEAPER than yesteryear.

This doesn’t affect me personally, other than when I’m looking to purchase a laptop as I have recently, but that’s another post I’ll expound on shortly. Anyway, when it comes to desktops, I build my own and have done so since 1992 when I built my first, a 486DX-33 from scratch. Since that time I haven’t had a name brand PC ever and I consequently (or luckily, depending on your point of view) haven’t had many hardware failures either. Yes, I’ve had a hard disk or two grind, clank, and die, but overall no major core hardware issues with the various machine innards.

Anyhow, that’s just my warped view so I have to ask, do you folk really think PCs are cheaper now than they were, say, ten years ago? Ponder that carefully before you answer, seriously.