Adventures in Upgrading a Lenovo IdeaCentre 5 Desktop

After spending the last year getting to know my i7-7700 PC that I had built several years ago better than I had ever known it before due to the shift to remote work and distance learning, I came to think that I needed a new computer that was better suited to my needs in the current situation. After a lot of research and patience price hunting, I replaced my old computer with the Lenovo IdeaCentre 5 with a Ryzen 7 4700G CPU pictured above.

As an English professor at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY who teaches classes asynchronously with weekly posted video lectures anchoring each class, a lot of my time goes into planning, shooting, and editing these lectures in addition to designing course sites, writing syllabi, adding content and assignments, and corresponding with students via email.

Overall, my i7-based computer supported my work admirably except for the final step of rendering my edited videos into single files before uploading them to my YouTube channel. For a two-hour-long lecture, the rendering time could be as long as 30 minutes. While not excessive, I knew that a newer computer with a CPU with more cores and threads than the 4-core/8-thread CPU that I had built several years ago would render the videos much more quickly.

I didn’t want to reinvest in my desktop setup unless I could afford to double the performance of my current setup (a rule of thumb that I picked up from my friend Mark). As a point of reference, the i7-7700 has an average CPU Mark of 8,617. Considering the price and long-term support of Intel and AMD’s platforms, including the cost of a new CPU, motherboard, and RAM, I focused on AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X and OEM-only Ryzen 7 4700G, both of which seemed to fit the bill with CPU Mark scores of 22,804 and 19,863 respectively. The lower cost of processors and motherboards combined with higher out-of-the-box RAM speed support and a commitment to supporting multiple CPU generations across motherboard chipsets via the AM4 socket also weighed in AMD’s favor.

While I could reuse my PC’s case, power supply, and drives, I thought about how much room the i7’s Corsair Carbide Series 100R case, which I had purchased earlier in the pandemic to accommodate a large video card, takes in my small closet-sized work area (approximately 18.5″ x 7 7/8″ x 17″ or 2477 cubic square inches). My cramped work environment led me to lean toward a pre-built system using the OEM-only Ryzen 7 4700G, because these systems, primarily made by HP and Lenovo for sale in the USA, are relatively tiny desktop PC systems.

Additionally, the Ryzen 7 4700G’s integrated graphics are nearly as strong as the discrete graphics in the Radeon RX 550 video card that I had in the i7-7700 system. This would mean that I didn’t need to have a discrete video card if I went with a 4700G-based system.

Another plus for the Ryzen 7 4700G is that it supports dual-channel DDR4-3200 RAM out of the box without a need to overclock the RAM (and having a motherboard that supports this function). Having fast RAM is essential for my workloads and it is needed even more so if I am relying on integrated graphics, which would share the RAM with the operating system and applications.

However, I didn’t want to overspend on a pre-built system with a 4700G processor. I knew from tracking computer prices that there had been deep cut sales on HP’s 4700G system (an incredible $450) around Black Friday 2020 and early in 2021. In fact, my friend Mark in Atlanta had worked on such a system for a friend of his family, and he filled me in on his experiences with upgrading its RAM and heat-sink and fan (HSF).

Ultimately, I choose the Lenovo IdeaCentre 5 with Ryzen 7 4700G system, because commenters online seemed to have stronger out-of-the-box experiences with it than that HP Desktop M01-1024. In particular, the Lenovo IdeaCentre 5 with a 4700G CPU included two sticks of DDR4 memory (which enables dual channel, as opposed to a single stick not in a dual channel configuration) and two drives (one SSD and one HDD). Also, I was impressed by my experience with a Lenovo ThinkPad, including its long life and build-quality, which I hoped would carry over with the IdeaCentre-line of desktops.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre 5 came with 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 RAM, a 256GB M.2 SSD, and a 1TB HDD. Its small footprint (13.5″ tall x 11″ deep x 5.75″ wide or 854 cubic square inches–almost 1/3 the volume of the Corsair 100R case!) saved space in my office, too. As I needed to begin working right away with the new system before making any upgrades, the Lenovo system seemed like the right way to go for me. Though, it took me about a month of price watching on Lenovo’s official eBay store before they lowered the price to an acceptable $560.69 with free shipping.

Below, I’m recording some of my experiences with the Lenovo IdeaCentre 5, including installing Linux Mint, upgrading the RAM, swapping out hard drives, installing an aftermarket heat-sink and fan, accounting of the costs involved, and concluding with a look ahead.

Installing Linux Mint

Since late last year, I’ve been using Linux Mint as my daily driver. My long-term issues with Microsoft Windows 10 and its data collection and forced upgrade regime, and frustration with Apple’s direction immediately before and certainly after Steve Jobs’ passing led me to switch to Linux where I have more control over my computer, my data, and the software that I use. Using Linux, I can get my work done without feeling that my computer isn’t mine, I’m being spied on, or I’m locked into a corporation’s walled garden.

The software that I use on Linux Mint supports my workflow great. For recording my weekly lectures, I use Google Slides (for the background), OBS Studio (to capture part of my screen with my webcam video overlayed), and Shotcut (to edit the video before uploading to YouTube). Also, I use open-source software, including LibreOffice (word processing and spreadsheet use), GIMP (image editing), Audacious (music playback), Firefox (web browsing), Thunderbird (email), Handbrake (trancoding), and SMPlayer (video playback), as well as proprietary software, including Wolfram Mathematica (mathematical modeling) and Zoom (video conferencing and online event management). While I could install Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat and run them in Linux via WINE, but I have found that their web-based, online counterparts work remarkably well when it is absolutely necessary that I use them.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I prefer Linux over Mac OS X and Windows 10 is how well the Linux operating system does disk and file system specific things like handling large numbers of files and nested directories. Throughout my career, I have collected copious notes, articles, and other research data that are organized in many nested folders, each potentially containing thousands of files. Mac OS X and Windows 10 would bog down when opening these directories of files. Searching through these files was also an ordeal with Apple and Microsoft’s offerings despite some third-party tools that made things better. Linux file systems and open-source tools give me far more control over my files both in handling and searching them, which helps me do my research more efficiently. Some of the search tools that I use include grep, Catfish, and Recoll.

Installing Linux Mint was a snap on the Lenovo IdeaCentre 5 with a Ryzen 7 4700G CPU. On my old PC, I used balena Etcher to burn a copy of the installation media for Linux Mint 20.1 on a USB drive. Before installing Linux, I backed up the Windows 10 installation media to a separate USB drive in case I needed to reinstall Windows on the Lenovo for some reason. Then, I rebooted the Lenovo, went into the BIOS, changed the boot order so that it would load the USB drive first and disabled SecureBoot, which causes problems with some Linux drivers for the WiFi card and other hardware. Continuing with the bootup process, I directed Linux Mint to launch the desktop so that I could see that everything worked before installing. Everything did work out of the box except for high resolution graphics, which I figured might be due to the older long-term support kernel that might not have drivers for the 4700G’s integrated graphics. So, I erased the m.2 SSD, installed Linux Mint, and after booting in successfully with the 5.4.0 kernel, I updated to the 5.8.0 kernel, which solved the graphics issue and restored 2560×1440 resolution on my 32″ MSI Optix MAG322CQRV monitor.

Maxing Out the RAM and Swapping the HDD

After receiving the Lenovo IdeaCentre 5 and testing out its stock capabilities, which were impressive compared to my i7-7700, I installed its first major upgrades: swapped the 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 RAM for 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-3200 RAM, and swapped its included 1TB HDD (a Western Digital Blue) for my 4TB HDD (also a Western Digital Blue).

After taking out two screws on the back of the case, I slid the side panel off, which exposed the computer’s components–motherboard, CPU, RAM, PSU, and drive cage (to the left above). Before opening the drive cage to locate the RAM underneath, there are three plastic tabs on the front panel that need to be lifted to release the panel and then it can be unhooked on the opposite by swinging the panel open-and-out. To open the drive cage, there is a metal tab now exposed after removing the front panel. Press the tab down and the cage slides forward and then up.

The stock Lenovo RAM is a matched pair of SK Hynix 8GB DDR4-3200 RAM (HMA81GU6CJR8N CL22 Single Rank). This is good RAM, but I wanted to max out what this system could use, so I ordered a 32GB Crucial Kit (16GBx2) DDR4-3200 (CT2K16G4DFD832A CL22 Dual Rank x8 Unbuffered). As with any other desktop system, it was easy enough to replace the RAM. First, the tabs on both sides of a stick of RAM are depressed, which lifts the DIMM out of the slot. Pull the stick of RAM out, place the new RAM in the slot–paying attention to the placement of the DIMM’s notch (the RAM goes in only one way)–and press down until the tabs fold in and lock into place.

While I had the case open, I also swapped the stock 1TB HDD with my 4TB HDD from my i7-7700 PC. This involved several steps due to how tight the drive cage assembly is designed. First, the DVD-R drive has to be removed, which exposes the screws underneath holding the HDD in place. After disconnecting the SATA data and power cables, I removed the screws and vibration pads, pulled out the 1TB drive, put in the 4TB drive, replaced the screws and vibration pads, connected the cables, and reinstalled the DVD-R drive. Then, the drive cage can be swung back into place and locked, and the front panel can be notched and snapped into place, and finally, the side panel slid into place and screwed down.

Installing the Silverstone Argon Series AR11 HSF

After using the Lenovo IdeaCentre 5 for a month, I noticed that the video editing software Shotcut would would bog down about halfway through rendering an hour-long video. Using CPU-X as root, I saw the CPU temperature rise to 72C and then the CPU voltage and CPU clock rate would decrease to lower the temperature. When the temperature decreased, the voltage and clock rate would creep up again. This feedback cycle would persist through the rendering process.

Lenovo, perhaps to cut costs by standardizing heatsink and motherboard designs, uses what they rate as a 65watt TDP (thermal design power) heatsink and fan (HSF). It’s made out of extruded aluminum with an offset 80mm, 4-pin fan mounted on top to blow air through the heatsink’s fins. What’s interesting about this part’s design is that its mounting hardware is for an Intel 1151 socket hole pattern instead of AMD’s AM4 socket, which the Ryzen 7 4700G processor uses.

My guess is that Lenovo sells many more computers with Intel CPUs than AMD CPUs, so even when they design a product that uses AMD parts, they design the motherboard and cooling solution to reuse the same hole pattern and heatsink fan as their Intel-based products.

While Lenovo’s HSF was rated for the 65watt TDP of the 4700G CPU, it didn’t seem capable of displacing the heat generated when the CPU was under a sustained load. This led me to replace Lenovo’s HSF solution with an aftermarket HSF that had a higher TDP.

Unfortunately, there were some constraints that I had to work around. First, as mentioned above, the cooler had to support a 1151 hole pattern. Second, the drive cage in the IdeaCentre 5 case overlaps the CPU area of the motherboard. This limits the height of the cooler to about 55-60mm (this was my best measurement due to taking it with Lenovo’s HSF installed). At the upper end of this range, it would be very tight, and airflow into the HSF might be restricted. Also, if a larger HSF with a wider fan were installed, it might not permit the installation of a 3.5″ HDD in the underside of the drive cage.

Ultimately, I decided to purchase the Silverstone Argon Series AR11 heatsink and fan.

It is only 47mm tall, but it features four heat-pipes that make direct contact with the CPU. Included in its height is the 15mm tall 92mm x 92mm fan, which should supply more air flow at the same rpm as the 80mm fan on the Lenovo-made HSF.

And, it has a 95 watt TDP rating, which means that it should give the 4700G’s 65 watt TDP some cooling headroom.

It included four nuts with spacers and a pouch of thermal compound.

To remove the Lenovo HSF and install the Silverstone AR11, I had to completely remove the motherboard from the case.

I could see that the Lenovo HSF was secured to (what I thought) was a backplate with threaded lugs that the spring-mounted screws on the four corners of the HSF would screw into. Since the Ideacentre 5’s case has the motherboard-side of the case riveted to the chassis, I had to remove the motherboard as I couldn’t see what the underside of the motherboard looked like from the other side (as you can in many aftermarket/hobbyist cases). Before dealing with the motherboard and the HSF, I began disconnecting all of the cables running to the motherboard, removing the drive cage, and removing the front-side frame around the USB connectors and the power button module.

Then, after removing all of the screws holding the motherboard to the chassis, I discovered that the motherboard wouldn’t budge. I had not yet removed the HSF, but it dawned on me that the HSF screws were connected to what I hoped were easily removable stand-offs beneath the motherboard. I would soon learn that this wasn’t the case. But, first, I removed the HSF to expose the 4700G covered in thermal compound underneath, which I cleaned off with a paper towel, a few Q-tips, and alcohol.

Underneath the motherboard, I found four stand-offs built into the chassis that were used to secure the HSF. I think that this design is a cost-saving measure on Lenovo’s part, because it might reduce a step or simplify the installation of the cooling solution during assembly of the PC.

Nevertheless, these four stand-offs were in the way of the nuts that would hold the SilverStone AR11 to the motherboard, so they had to be removed.

Thankfully, I was able to drill out each of these standoffs with a 1/4″ drill bit. Drilling each out, left a thin-walled bushing and it popped out the rivet underneath.

I was able to vacuum the metal shavings, which left four clean holes in the chassis.

With nothing obstructing my work now, I proceeded to install the AR11 HSF on the 4700G. I applied the included thermal compound to the 4700G and smoothed it with an old credit card. Then, I positioned the AR11 over the 4700G and through the four mounting holes. Carefully holding the AR11 in place with one hand, I used my other hand to flip the motherboard over. Balancing the motherboard on the AR11, I threaded each nut with spacer on the protruding studs from the AR11’s mounting hardware. I tightened the nuts slowly in a four bolt torque pattern until it was secure. Then, I reinstalled the motherboard with the new AR11 mounted into the IdeaCentre 5’s case.

While I had everything exposed inside the IdeaCentre 5 case, I canibalized the 80mm fan from the original Lenovo-supplied HSF and mounted it as an intake fan in the front of the case (lower right above). The exhaust fan (upper left above) came mounted with the computer. Both use 4-pin power connectors. The motherboard supports one 4-pin CPU HSF connector and three 4-pin case fan connectors.

With the drive cage re-installed, there is a safe clearance of about 10mm between the AR11 and the 3.5″ HDD installed above it in the drive cage.

With everything reassembled, the Lenovo fired up without any issues, and psensor reports lower minimum temperatures (24C after, 31C before) and lower maximum temperatures (60C after, 65C before). When I record this coming week’s lectures in Science Fiction and Technical Writing, I will have a better idea about whether the AR11 keeps the temperatures low enough to avoid excessive clock rate throttling during extended load times.

Calculating the Cost

As a computer enthusiast and retrocomputing preservationist, I wish that I could keep all of my old computers.

Unfortunately, the costs of living prohibit my holding on to everything. As such, I needed to sell my i7-7700 PC and its components, and sell/repurpose parts from the Lenovo IdeaCentre to lower the overall cost of switching to a new computer system.

Below, I am including a tally of my costs and profits surrounding the new system. The new components cost $777.67 (excluding tax), but I was able to sell my old PC and some components for $529.00. This makes the final cost for the new computer to be $248.67.


Purchases

Lenovo IdeaCentre 5 Desktop, Ryzen 7 4700G, AMD Radeon Graphics, 16GB
$560.69

Crucial 32GB Kit (16GBx2) DDR4 3200 MT/s (PC4-25600) CL22 DR x8 Unbuffered DIMM 288-Pin Memory - CT2K16G4DFD832A 
$168.99

Silverstone Argon Series (AR11-USA) Intel Socket LGA1150/1151/1155/1156 Compatible 
$47.99

==========

Total $777.67


-$300 (thanks to Patrick for getting this for his daughter)
i7-7700 PC, 16GB RAM, 480GB SSD, 1TB HDD (the HDD was from Lenovo PC)

-$99
SK Hynix 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 3200 RAM Kit HMA81GU6CJR8N CL22 Single Rank (from Lenovo PC)

-$110
MSI Radeon RX 550 AERO ITX 2G OC 2GB PCIe Graphics Card (from i7 PC)

-$20
Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX PCIe 5.1 Sound Card [SB1570] (from i7 PC)

==========

$248.67

Looking Ahead

One of my goals in purchasing a pre-build system with a Ryzen 7 4700G processor was ultimately to get one of these OEM-only CPUs. In the USA, the options are few for purchasing one–either order it online from an overseas seller or buy a pre-built system that comes with one. In a sense, the latter turns into a shucking situation like many people have done for years with Western Digital external USB hard drives and now others are doing with pre-built systems that come with a video card. The market and pricing drive computer hobbyists to do things that save them a buck or land them a hard-to-find component. For me, this system serves this purpose in the long run. For the time being, I plan to run the 4700G in the Lenovo IdeaCentre 5, but if/when component prices return to saner price points, I would like to build a new system with a motherboard that can do more with the 4700G and its system RAM than the extremely limited Lenovo-made AM4 socket motherboard.

My needs change depending on the work that I happen to be doing at any given time. I imagine that I might get a dedicated graphics card again in the future, but I have no interest in dealing with the scarcity and market-inflated prices right now. I realize that there are a number of forces at play that are driving up prices, including the pandemic’s effects on workers, their families, and supply chains, ensuing component part scarcity, high demand among computer users working, learning, and playing remotely from home, and high demand among cryptocurrency miners. As we dig ourselves out of the pandemic, I think the former issues will sort themselves out. However, as we’ve seen before, cryptocurrency’s built-in blockchain inefficiencies and the proof-of-work concept that underlies their systems continues to wreak havoc on the cyclical graphics card market while simultaneously damaging the environment through its outsized and ever increasing energy needs. Crypto-mining doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, so it’s an issue that we need to collectively deal with before it virtually absorbs the graphics card market and inaugurates a new industrial-market revolution with detrimental environmental costs.

Personal Cloud Storage with Syncthing and a Tiny Raspberry Pi Zero W Computer

Raspberry Pi Zero W v1.1

I like Syncthing, the continuous file synchronization program. Syncthing helps me pickup and continue my work regardless of the device I happen to be using, because it synchronizes my files across all devices. Think Dropbox but on my own hardware.

Also, I like tiny, low-power computers, like the Raspberry Pi 2. The Raspberry Pi and other lightweight computers demonstrate how even small computers are powerful enough for servers and desktop computing.

When Dropbox became more bloated with the new app design and refusing to offer a lower cost tier for those of us with modestly lower file synchronization needs, I began using Syncthing to create a folder of files synchronized between my desktop computer (at home) and my Surface Go (laptop used at work). I’ve been wanting to add a third node in my personal cloud storage solution, in part as an exercise in Linux and tiny computing and in part as another safe repository of my files. So, it made sense to combine my use of Syncthing with my enthusiasm for tiny computing by adding a third node to my Syncthing setup with a $10 Raspberry Pi Zero W (RPi0).

Raspberry Pi Micro USB Power Supply, Raspberry Pi Zero W, and C4 Labs Zebra Zero Black Ice Case

I picked up a RPi0 version 1.1, a C4 Labs Zebra Zero Black Ice Case with heatsink from Microcenter using their curbside pickup, which cost about $26 total.

I setup the RPi0 as a headless computer, meaning that it doesn’t have a monitor or keyboard attached. I will configure and control it remotely over my LAN.

Before turning to the software and preparing the microSD card for the RPi, I assembled the case and installed the heatsink on the CPU. A case for the RPi0 wasn’t necessary, but I thought it prudent to get one for two reasons: 1) I have a cat and a small thing with a wire sticking out might be enticing, and 2) I plan to leave it on all the time, so a heatsink like the one included in this case kit will help dissipate heat produced by the RPi0’s CPU.

Before powering up the RPi0, I downloaded Raspbian Lite (a lean version of the Linux-based Raspbian OS for the RPi), balena Etcher (to burn the installer image to my microSD card), PuTTY (to SSH into the RPi0 to configure, administer, and install software), and Apple’s Bonjour network printer software (to easily connect to the .local hostname of the RPi0).

Then, I followed Mitch Allen’s excellent directions for setting up a headless RPi0.

Next, I followed these detailed directions for installing and configuring Syncthing to launch and load automatically when the RPi0 is powered up.

Since I installed Apple’s Bonjour software as part of Mitch Allen’s instructions above, I was able to easily connect to the RPi0’s Syncthing web admin page by going to “raspberrypi.local:8384” on my desktop’s web browser.

Before setting up Syncthing to sync files, I wanted to lockdown the web admin page by going to Actions > Settings > GUI where I checked “Use HTTPS for GUI” and added a “GUI Authentication User” and “GUI Authentication Password”.

As a test, I rebooted the RPi0 and confirmed that Syncthing launched automatically at bootup and confirmed that authentication was required to access the web admin page remotely.

Also, I made sure that I had Syncthing running on the desktop computer and the RPi0. Due to some initial problems with syncing, I unlinked my desktop and Surface Go from syncing, and moved the files and folders out of my default sync folder so that the sync folder is empty to begin with.

Then, I added a remote device to Syncthing on my desktop PC and on the RPi0 (both installations of Syncthing have to have the other device added).

On each Syncthing web admin page click “Add Remote Device” to add the other computers that you want to sync

First, on each computer (in my case, the desktop PC and the RPi0), click “Add Remote Device” on the Syncthing web admin page.

Enter the Device ID generated by Syncthing on the other computer. On my local network, it auto-suggested the ID of the desktop PC on the RPi0 and vice versa.

Second, on the “Add Device” screen that appears, type in the Device ID of the other computer. In my case, Syncthing auto-suggested the Device ID of the desktop PC when I was configuring the RPi0 and vice versa since these devices are on the same local area network.

On the Sharing tab, check all three boxes

Third, click on the “Sharing” tab on the “Add Device” screen, and check all three boxes: Introducer tells connected devices to add devices from the other synced devices, Default Folder is what folder is being shared, and Auto Accept will automatically include new folders created or shared within the default shared path. Finally, click “Save.”

After adding each other device on each Syncthing installation, they should begin syncing the default folder. I added one file back on my desktop PC to test this. After that file synced on both devices, I added my files back and they began syncing with the RPi0.

The final step in my setup was to add the Surface Go as another remote device. After starting Syncthing on the Surface Go, I added it to the desktop PC and I added the desktop PC to the Surface Go’s Syncthing configuration. While the Surface Go began copying files, the RPi0 added the Surface Go as a remote device automatically. Now, all three devices sync my files.

A better configuration would be to have the RPi0 off-site so that my files would be protected from burglary or fire. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend Syncthing as a foolproof backup solution that gives you the same sense of security as off-site storage unless you can arrange to have your files off-site (then, I would recommend going further than what I did and have your RPi0’s drive encrypted to protect your files should the off-site device be compromised).

For my purposes, using Syncthing on two work-focused devices and one tiny RPi0 computer server gives me some peace of mind through an additional layer of redundancy.

Now, I want to explore what else I can have this RPi0 do as a headless server!

Reprint of My Article, “Decoding the Origins of H. G. Wells’s ‘The Land Ironclads’ and Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton’s Tank” Now Available in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 264

British_Mark_I_male_tank_Somme_25_September_1916

British Mark I Tank. This is photograph Q 2486 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 1900-09).

My article on the public debate between H. G. Wells and Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton about who originated the idea of a motorized, armored weapons platform or tank, which first appeared in The Wellsian: The Journal of the H. G. Wells Society (no. 33, 2010, pp. 42-57) is now available as a reprint in Short Story Criticism, Volume 264 (edited by Catherine C. DiMercurio, Prod. Layman Poupard. Gale, Cengage, 2018, pp. 256-265).

N.B.: Gale’s Short Story Criticism series is an excellent resource for scholars and students to easily and quickly learn the discourse on a particular author’s short story oeuvre. These volumes collate scholarship from a wide variety of academic journals on the works of a particular author. For example, Short Story Criticism, Volume 264 includes three sections of collected articles for these writers: Mary Caponegro, Mahasweta Devi, and H. G. Wells. I believe that the series is a good addition to libraries serving the needs of English departments and literature programs, because it provides a wide array of research on its selected authors for convenient access to scholarship.

EVGA nVidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Video Card Upgrade, Incredible Graphics in Games and Simulations

IMG_20180816_151648

When I built my desktop PC last year, I opted for a low-end video card, because my graphics requirements were modest and it helped keep the cost of computer parts down. Since then, I’ve wanted to experience a better visual experience on my computer in games and graphics simulations, meaning more detail and effects, and higher frame rates at 1080p resolution.

IMG_20180816_152457

Unfortunately, video card prices were outrageously inflated due to high demand from Etherium and other easy-entry cryptocurrency miners. With the welcome crash of electricity-wasting cryptocurrency markets and the anticipated announcement of a new generation of video cards from nVidia, the prices of video cards began to return to lower prices, which prompted me to begin looking for an upgrade.

IMG_20180816_152530

Considering that I have a 400-watt EVGA PSU and my monitor is 1080p, I focused on nVidia’s GeForce GTX 1060, because despite its Pascal architecture’s very modest power requirements (recommended 400 watt PSU and 6-pin PCIe auxiliary power), it pushes very high-quality graphics at 1080p resolution. While the 3GB model was less expensive than the 6GB model, I chose the latter, because it has more CUDA cores (1280 vs. 1152), more texture mapping units/TMU (80 vs. 72), and more streaming multiprocessors/SM (10 vs. 9). These enhancements coupled with twice as much GDDR5 video ram justified its slightly higher price for better performance and hopefully greater use lifespan. I went with EVGA’s single fan version of the 1060, because I have had good experiences with their products and I appreciate their streamlined, unostentatious, and quiet design on this video card.

3dgraphicsmark-1060

After purchasing the GeForce GTX 1060 6GB video card for $280 from Microcenter and installing it in my PC, I stress tested it and ran benchmarks to verify that everything was okay after the upgrade. As you can see above, it scored a 3D Graphics Mark of 10684, which is more than twice as high as the 3,954 scored by my old Radeon RX 550 4GB video card.

ffxiv-heavensward-1060-2

In the Final Fantasy XiV Heavensward benchmark, the GTX 1060 GB scored an 11,797 at 1080p, while the RX 550 4GB scored only 4,416 at the same resolution.

Desktop Screenshot 2018.08.24 - 14.32.17.07

In the Docking Bay 94 Unreal Engine 4 simulation, I get well over 40 fps with the settings maxed out at 1080p. Read about how the simulation was made and find download links on 80 level.

Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) Screenshot 2018.08.24 - 15.28.51.41

And, I get to fly the Millennium Falcon in EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront 2 video game. While the game’s graphics are amazing, I was reticent to purchase it after its launch debacle with in-game purchases and loot crates. Thankfully, EA backtracked on those things after the gaming and Star Wars fan communities collectively denounced these greedy and unethical practices.

 

Destiny 2 Screenshot 2018.08.24 - 15.39.36.50

Finally, EVGA’s current video game promotion includes a free copy of Destiny 2 with the purchase of a GTX 1060 or higher video card. After redeeming my copy, I’ve played a little of it, and I like it. I’m a big fan of the original Halo by Bungie, and this game reminds me of that game without the story relying on a single archtype hero, such as Master Chief. In Destiny 2, you can create your own character based on class (Titan, Hunter, or Warlock), species, sex, and appearance. For my first experience in the game, I created a Hunter. The GTX 1060 6GB video card makes this game run smooth and look beautiful at 1080p.

Overall, I’m very glad that I made this upgrade to my PC. If you’re considering an upgrade now rather than waiting for nVidia’s recently announced RTX line of video cards, I strongly recommend the GTX 1060 6GB as a lower cost, high performance video card.

Retro-Review of Used Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Sourced from eBay

IMG_20180716_141139

I’ve wanted an IBM ThinkPad since I first saw my boss’ at Netlink in the fall of 1998. But, while I’ve been invested in PCs over the years tangentially, I reserved Macs as my primary desktop or laptop computing platform, which combined with the premium price on IBM and then Lenovo ThinkPads kept me in the Apple premium category. Put another way, I could afford one but not both.

Apple, as I’ve confided with friends, is diverging from my computing interests and needs. While design has been an important part of Apple’s DNA since the Apple II (arguably even earlier if we consider Woz’s design aesthetics for the Apple I motherboard layout), its increasing emphasis on fashion and accessorization and seeming less technological investment and innovation in its desktop and laptop computers have soured my allegiance to the company and its computers.

So, I thought about how to try out a different kind of PC laptop–one that I had wanted but could not afford when it was originally released–and make an investment in extending the life of what some folks might consider an obsolete or recyclable computer.

Within this framework, I wanted a laptop to take the place of the MacBook Pro that I had sold on eBay awhile back while the resell value was still high before rumored price reductions as product refreshes roll in. It needed to be relatively lightweight and have a small footprint. Also, it needed to have good battery life. And of course, it needed to run the software that I use on my home-built desktop PC.

Eventually, I decided to purchase a very well taken care of Lenovo ThinkPad X230 on eBay. Originally released in 2012 for a lot more than what I paid for it, this ThinkPad model features an Intel Core i5 3320M Ivy Bridge CPU running at 2.6GHz with 2 cores and supporting 4 threads. It has 8GB DDR3 RAM and a 180 GB SSD. In addition to built-in WiFi, it has an ethernet port, 3 USB 3.0 connectors, an SD Card reader, VGA and Display port connectors, and a removable battery.

From a user interface perspective, it has a chiclet keyboard which responds well to typing quickly. Its touchpad leaves a little to be desired in terms of responding to some gestures like scrolling, but its red pointing nub and paddle-style mouse buttons at the top of the touchpad are exquisite. It includes some feature buttons like a speaker mute button next to volume keys above the function key row, and on the left side there is a radio on/off switch for the WiFi and Bluetooth.

Initially, I tried out the ThinkPad X230 with Ubuntu, and everything seemed to work out of the box (though, I added TLP for advanced power management). However, I switched back to Windows 10 Professional with a full nuke-and-pave installation, because I have some software that is far easier to run natively in Windows instead of through Wine or virtualization in Linux.

In Windows 10 Professional, the ThinkPad X230 meets all of my productivity needs. I use LibreOffice for most things, but I also rely on Google Docs in Chrome for some tasks (like inventorying the City Tech Science Fiction Collection). The WiFi works well even at City Tech, which has one of the most cantankerous wireless networks I’ve encountered. At home, I use it on my lap to browse while watching TV.

The X230 is snappy and quick despite its age. Of course, the SSD and ample RAM support increased input/output for the older CPU. Chrome, LibreOffice, and Windows Explorer respond without hesitation. It easily plays downloaded Solo: A Star Wars Story 1080p trailers in VLC, too.

With the included 6 cell 45N1022 battery, it runs for several hours (this is a used battery, so its capacity might be lower than one that is brand new). I purchased a 9 cell 45N1175 battery, which I’m testing out now. With the 6 cell battery, it is just shy of 3 pounds, and with the 9 cell battery is a little over 3 pounds. I’m hoping that between the two of them that I can get plenty of work done on the go without being tethered to a power outlet.

Future tests include running World of Warcraft and watching full length movies. The display’s viewing angles could be better, but I’m willing to accept them as they are as I can adjust the brightness and display gamma easily using keyboard shortcuts and the Intel Display Adapter software to minimize its poorer display quality as compared to the latest HiDPI displays available now.

I’m tickled to use the Lenovo ThinkPad X230 as my main laptop. Now, I can say that I’m a proud ThinkPad owner instead of a zealous Apple user.

At the bottom of this post, I’ve included more photos of the X230.

If you’re considering a new computer, I would, based on this and my other vintage computing experiences, suggest that you consider trading up for a used or refurbished machine. Getting a used computer keeps that computer out of a landfill or being destroyed for its rare metals, and it might be an opportunity to try out a computer that you might have missed on its first time around.

Retrocomputing at City Tech

retrocomputing-at-city-tech

In addition to working on a book review today, I created a new OpenLab site for Retrocomputing at City Tech. In addition to recording how I use vintage computers in the classroom and in research, the new OpenLab site contains a catalog of my vintage computing archive. I populated this catalog with most of the hardware, but I plan to granulize it further and create a catalog of my software. This, of course, will take time. At least there is a place for me to record these things now within the auspices of the work that I do at City Tech. I updated my previous Retrocomputing Lab page on this site with a link to the updated site on OpenLab.

Computer Upgrades: HDD and RAM

Maker:L,Date:2017-10-2,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

My desktop PC, which I wrote about its build and benchmarks previously, has performed very well since I built it late last year. However, I built it on a budget, so I wasn’t able to outfit it as well as I would have liked. After deciding that I would use the desktop computer as my primary computer, I upgraded it with those components that I needed most: more storage space and more RAM.

The most pressing need was additional hard drive space. The original ADATA 128GB SSD was adequate when I was testing the system and deciding if I wanted to use it as my primary computer. When I wanted to do more than just the bare necessities and have access to my data more quickly than an external backup hard drive or flash drive could provide, I added two hard disk drives.

First, I picked up a Toshiba 5400rpm 2TB OEM drive when Microcenter had them on sale. I had good luck with Toshiba drives from Microcenter with previous computer builds, so I was comfortable using a larger format capacity one in this computer. Due to the limited warranty on OEM drives, I put the drive through its paces to ensure that it wasn’t a lemon: I performed a low level format on the drive, and then I began the laborious task of moving files to the drive via USB and over the network. Then, I culled through the copied files to remove duplicate files. Finally, I erased the free space to stress test the drive again.

Second, I waited for another sale at Microcenter and purchased a Western Digital Blue 5400rpm 4TB drive. After adding it the computer, which required routing the power cable and SATA cables differently than I had done before, I stress tested the new drive with a low level format (this took all evening to perform!) and then copied everything from the Toshiba 2TB drive to the WD 4TB drive.

Another important need was additional RAM for the software that I use–multiple productivity applications, Wolfram Mathematica, and games. The Gigabyte B250-DS3H mATX motherboard supports four sticks of DDR4 RAM. I bought the computer’s first dual-channel pair of Crucial DDR4-2400 4GB RAM sticks at an amazing discount. Unfortunately, DDR4 RAM prices rose and have stayed elevated since that time. When a more modest discount was offered than originally, I chose to take it. Now, all four DDR4 slots are filled with two pairs of Crucial DDR4-2400 RAM for a total of 16GB RAM.

I dabbled with VR before video card prices went through the roof. For this experiment, I upgraded the video card and PSU. I don’t have the video card any longer, but I kept the Corsair CX650M PSU so that I can switch out video cards for something more powerful in the future.

After these upgrades, my computer’s stats are:

Intel i7-7700

Gigabyte B250-DS3H mATX Motherboard

Asus Radeon Rx-550 4GB GDDR5 Video Card

Crucial 16GB 4×4 DDR4-2400 RAM

ADATA SU800 128GB 3D-NAND 2.5 Inch SATA SSD

2TB Toshiba OEM HDD

4TB WD Blue HDD

Corsair CX650M PSU

ROSEWILL Micro ATX Mini Tower Computer Case, FBM-01

Maker:L,Date:2017-10-2,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Desktop Computer Build Description (i7-7700 and Radeon RX-550 4GB GDDR5) with Benchmarks

IMG_2466

Over the past two weeks, I built a new desktop computer to replace my i5-based Intel NUC, because I wanted more CPU horsepower and a dedicated graphics card.

The NUC6i5SYH has a soldered i5-6260U CPU. This part has only two CPU cores, which support two threads each for a total of four threads. With this new build, I use a socket-based i7-7700, which has four CPU cores, each of which supports two threads for a total of eight threads. Coupled with a higher, maximum clock rate, this i7 processor can do more work in less time than the i5-6260U CPU in the Intel NUC.

For watching 1080p videos and lower resolution 3D graphics, the i5-6260U’s integrated graphics are more than sufficient. However, I wanted to play some 3D games and use Unreal Engine 4 for a project. The entry-level graphics of AMD Radeon’s RX 550 coupled with a design that does not require a higher-wattage PSU seemed adequate for this particular build.

IMG_2468

My new computer’s specs, sourcing, and pricing are:

Intel i7-7700 (Microcenter, $280)

Gigabyte B250-DS3H mATX Motherboard (Microcenter, $10 on promotion and free after rebate)

Asus Radeon Rx-550 4GB GDDR5 Video Card (Microcenter, $103)

Crucial 8GB 2×4 DDR4-2400 RAM (Microcenter, $75)

ADATA SU800 128GB 3D-NAND 2.5 Inch SATA SSD (Amazon, $56)

EVGA 400 watt PSU (Amazon, $30)

ROSEWILL Micro ATX Mini Tower Computer Case, FBM-01 (Amazon, $25)

Redragon K552-N KUMARA Mechanical Gaming Keyboard (Amazon, $27)

Teknet Gaming Mouse (Amazon, $11)

Microsoft Windows 10 Home USB (Amazon, $110)

Total: $727

With any computer build that I undertake, I am most interested in maintaining access to legacy software and operating systems for my research. While I haven’t tested everything, I have confirmed that Sheepshaver/MacOS 7.5.5 and VirtualBox/Windows 98 are up-and-running.

After this preliminary setup, I ran the following benchmarks to stress test and evaluate the system. The results are included below as a measure for anyone interested in how a system like mine performs.

Performance Test 9, CPU Test

performancetest-cpu

Using the evaluation copy of Performance Test 9, the CPU Test yielded a result of 11,399, which places the system above the average for this CPU and in the 92nd percentile.

Performance Test 9, 3D Graphics Mark Test

performancetest-graphics

I opted for the budget/entry-level RX 550 video card, because only a few games that I play would benefit from a greater investment in this part of the overall build. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the 3,954 3D Graphics Mark result, which places the system in the 71st percentile.

Unigen Heaven Benchmark 4.0

unigen-heaven

My system earned a Heaven Benchmark score of 843 and it sustained an average 33.5 frames per second.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0

FPS:
33.5
Score:
843
Min FPS:
17.9
Max FPS:
68.6
System

Platform:
Windows NT 6.2 (build 9200) 64bit
CPU model:
Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz (3599MHz) x4
GPU model:
Radeon RX 550 Series 22.19.677.257 (4095MB) x1
Settings

Render:
Direct3D11
Mode:
1920×1080 fullscreen
Preset
Custom
Quality
High
Tessellation: Disabled
Powered by UNIGINE Engine
Unigine Corp. © 2005-2013

Unigen Valley Benchmark 1.0

unigen-valley

In the Valley Benchmark, my system gained a score of 1,415 with an average 33.8 frames per second.

Unigine Valley Benchmark 1.0

FPS:
33.8
Score:
1415
Min FPS:
21.1
Max FPS:
58.3
System

Platform:
Windows 8 (build 9200) 64bit
CPU model:
Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz (3599MHz) x4
GPU model:
Radeon RX 550 Series 22.19.677.257 (4095MB) x1
Settings

Render:
Direct3D11
Mode:
1920×1080 fullscreen
Preset
Custom
Quality
High
Powered by UNIGINE Engine
Unigine Corp. © 2005-2013

Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward Benchmark

heavensward

After creating a character and running the benchmark, my computer earned a score of 8077, Extremely High performance, and it maintained an average 59.933 frames per second.

FINAL FANTASY XIV: Heavensward BenchmarkFINAL FANTASY XIV: Heavensward

BenchmarkTested on: 10/27/2017 10:38:37

PMScore: 8077

Average Frame Rate: 59.933

Performance: Extremely High -Easily capable of running the game on the highest settings.

Loading Times by Scene  Scene #1 1.251 sec  Scene #2 5.183 sec  Scene #3 3.822 sec  Scene #4 3.259 sec  Scene #5 4.570 sec  Scene #6 1.514 secTotal Loading Time 19.600 sec
DAT:s20171027223837.dat
Screen Size: 1280x720Screen Mode: WindowedDirectX Version: 11Graphics Presets: High (Desktop)General-Wet Surface Effects: Enabled-Occlusion Culling: Enabled-LOD on Distant Objects: Disabled-Real-time Reflections: Highest Quality (DirectX 11 Only)-Edge Smoothing (Anti-aliasing): FXAA-Transparent Lighting Quality: High-Grass Quality: High-Background Tessellation: High Quality-Water Tessellation: High QualityShadows-Self: Display-Other NPCs: DisplayShadow Quality-LOD on Shadows: Enabled-Shadow Resolution: High – 2048p-Shadow Cascading: Best-Shadow Softening: StrongTexture Detail-Texture Filtering: Anisotropic-Anisotropic Filtering: x8Movement Physics-Self: Full-Other NPCs: FullEffects-Limb Darkening: Enabled-Radial Blur: Enabled-Screen Space Ambient Occlusion: HBAO+: Standard Quality (DirectX 11 Only)-Glare: NormalCinematic Cutscenes-Depth of Field: Enabled
SystemWindows 10 Home 64-bit (6.2, Build 9200) (15063.rs2_release.170317-1834)Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz8151.770MBRadeon RX 550 Series (VRAM 3072 MB) 22.19.0677.0257
Benchmark results do not provide any guarantee FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn (Windows version) and FINAL FANTASY XIV: Heavensward (Windows version) will run on your system.
FINAL FANTASY XIV: Heavensward Official Website http://na.finalfantasyxiv.com/pr/(C) 2010-2015 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.
Share ResultsType 1http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV Score: 8077 1280×720 High (Desktop) DX11 Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz Radeon RX 550 Series Type 2http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV Score: 8077 1280×720 High (Desktop) DirectX11 Windowed Radeon RX 550 Series Type 3http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV 1280×720 High (Desktop) DirectX11 Score: 8077 Extremely High Type 4http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV 1280×720 High (Desktop) DirectX11 Windowed Score: 8077 Full ResultsFINAL FANTASY XIV: Heavensward Benchmark  Score: 8077 Extremely High  1280×720 High (Desktop) DirectX11 Windowed  Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz  Radeon RX 550 Series  http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV

Then, I ran the test again in 1080p resolution in full-screen mode. This resulted in a lower rating of “high” with a numerical score of 4,416.

heavensward-high

 

Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood Benchmark

final-fantasy-stormblood-launch

I ran the Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood benchmark twice–once at 720p in windowed mode (default) and once at 1080p in full screen mode. I imported my created character from Heavensward into Stormblood.

final-fantasy-stormblood

In 720p, windowed mode, my system scored 10,877 (extremely high).

FINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood BenchmarkFINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood BenchmarkTested on: 10/28/2017 3:58:19 PMScore: 10877Average Frame Rate: 73.707Performance: Extremely High -Easily capable of running the game on the highest settings.Loading Times by Scene  Scene #1 2.109 sec  Scene #2 2.956 sec  Scene #3 2.329 sec  Scene #4 3.194 sec  Scene #5 5.589 sec  Scene #6 1.192 secTotal Loading Time 17.373 sec
DAT:s20171028155819.dat
Screen Size: 1280x720Screen Mode: WindowedDirectX Version: 11Graphics Presets: High (Laptop)General-Wet Surface Effects: Enabled-Occlusion Culling: Enabled-LOD on Distant Objects: Enabled-Real-time Reflections: Off-Edge Smoothing (Anti-aliasing): FXAA-Transparent Lighting Quality: Normal-Grass Quality: Normal-Background Tessellation: High Quality-Water Tessellation: High Quality-Glare: OffShadows-Self: Display-Other NPCs: DisplayShadow Quality-LOD on Shadows: Enabled-Shadow Resolution: Normal – 1024p-Shadow Cascading: Best-Shadow Softening: StrongTexture Detail-Texture Filtering: Anisotropic-Anisotropic Filtering: x4Movement Physics-Self: Full-Other NPCs: FullEffects-Limb Darkening: Enabled-Radial Blur: Enabled-Screen Space Ambient Occlusion: HBAO+: Standard-Glare: NormalCinematic Cutscenes-Depth of Field: Enabled
SystemWindows 10 Home 64-bit (6.2, Build 9200) (15063.rs2_release.170317-1834)Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz8151.770MBRadeon RX 550 Series (VRAM 4044 MB)
This software does not guarantee that your system will run the Windows versions of FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn, FINAL FANTASY XIV: Heavensward, and FINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood.
FINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood Official Website http://na.finalfantasyxiv.com/pr/(C) 2010-2017 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.
Share ResultsType 1http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV Score: 10877 1280×720 High (Laptop) DX11 Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz Radeon RX 550 Series Type 2http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV Score: 10877 1280×720 High (Laptop) DirectX11 Windowed Radeon RX 550 Series Type 3http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV 1280×720 High (Laptop) DirectX11 Score: 10877 Extremely High Type 4http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV 1280×720 High (Laptop) DirectX11 Windowed Score: 10877 Full ResultsFINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood Benchmark  Score: 10877 Extremely High  1280×720 High (Laptop) DirectX11 Windowed  Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz  Radeon RX 550 Series  http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV

Next, I ran the benchmark again but in 1080p resolution and in full-screen mode.

final-fantasy-stormblood-1080p

This time, my computer scored only 5,807 (very high). Watching the benchmark demo unfold on my monitor was exciting, and the game looked gorgeous!

FINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood BenchmarkFINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood BenchmarkTested on: 10/28/2017 4:07:17 PMScore: 5807Average Frame Rate: 39.137Performance: Very High -Easily capable of running the game. Should perform exceptionally well, even at higher resolutions.Loading Times by Scene  Scene #1 2.298 sec  Scene #2 2.920 sec  Scene #3 2.417 sec  Scene #4 3.088 sec  Scene #5 5.725 sec  Scene #6 1.032 secTotal Loading Time 17.484 sec
DAT:s20171028160717.dat
Screen Size: 1920x1080Screen Mode: Full ScreenDirectX Version: 11Graphics Presets: High (Laptop)General-Wet Surface Effects: Enabled-Occlusion Culling: Enabled-LOD on Distant Objects: Enabled-Real-time Reflections: Off-Edge Smoothing (Anti-aliasing): FXAA-Transparent Lighting Quality: Normal-Grass Quality: Normal-Background Tessellation: High Quality-Water Tessellation: High Quality-Glare: OffShadows-Self: Display-Other NPCs: DisplayShadow Quality-LOD on Shadows: Enabled-Shadow Resolution: Normal – 1024p-Shadow Cascading: Best-Shadow Softening: StrongTexture Detail-Texture Filtering: Anisotropic-Anisotropic Filtering: x4Movement Physics-Self: Full-Other NPCs: FullEffects-Limb Darkening: Enabled-Radial Blur: Enabled-Screen Space Ambient Occlusion: HBAO+: Standard-Glare: NormalCinematic Cutscenes-Depth of Field: Enabled
SystemWindows 10 Home 64-bit (6.2, Build 9200) (15063.rs2_release.170317-1834)Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz8151.770MBRadeon RX 550 Series (VRAM 4044 MB)
This software does not guarantee that your system will run the Windows versions of FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn, FINAL FANTASY XIV: Heavensward, and FINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood.
FINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood Official Website http://na.finalfantasyxiv.com/pr/(C) 2010-2017 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.
Share ResultsType 1http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV Score: 5807 1920×1080 High (Laptop) DX11 Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz Radeon RX 550 Series Type 2http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV Score: 5807 1920×1080 High (Laptop) DirectX11 Full Screen Radeon RX 550 Series Type 3http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV 1920×1080 High (Laptop) DirectX11 Score: 5807 Very High Type 4http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV 1920×1080 High (Laptop) DirectX11 Full Screen Score: 5807 Full ResultsFINAL FANTASY XIV: Stormblood Benchmark  Score: 5807 Very High  1920×1080 High (Laptop) DirectX11 Full Screen  Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700 CPU @ 3.60GHz  Radeon RX 550 Series  http://sqex.to/ffxiv_bench_na #FFXIV

Conclusion

While I certainly understand choosing components for overclocking, I opted for a build that was stable first and provided performance second.

I am very happy with my system’s stability and performance. If your processing needs outweigh your graphics needs, I recommend building a system similar to this one.

Desktop Shelving Epic Continues: Notched Shelf Added in the Middle

shelf-progression

What began as a simple shelf to raise some of my LEGO sets off the workspace of my desk and rose to incorporate a higher shelf to accommodate more sets that I brought back from my parents’ home is now a three tier Franken-shelf.

It quickly became evident that I needed more shelf space for a few more sets that I had assembled. Also, I noticed that the 16″ space between the lower and upper shelves of the second phase construction was more than necessary. It seemed that 8″ headspace was required for most of my LEGO sets. So, I set about adding a third shelf between the lower and top shelves.

I decided to notch this 1″ x 10″ x 4′ shelf and install it only with deck screws through the upper shelf supports. I measured 46 1/2″ between the two supports and the 1″ x 4″ supports are 3/4″ thick. This is where I made a mistake with my initial cut. My measurements were correct, but during the 5 seconds that it takes for me to talk from my closet (where the desk is) to the living room where I had left my handsaw, my mind misremembered the measurement as 46″ between the supports. This meant that I cut 1/4″ more than needed on each side of the shelf! Luckily, I had a scrap piece of 1″ x 4″ board that I cut 1/4″ fillers from and glued into the notch to fill the missing material.

IMG_2117

The shelf is centered on a line at 8″ between the top of the bottom shelf and the bottom of the top shelf, which is a distance of 16″.

IMG_2118

My deck screws extend through the supports and filler, and enter the shelf securely. They are spaced 1″ inside from either end and the third being in the middle (3/4″ from either end screw).

IMG_2116

The new shelf easily accommodates a number of sets from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who.

IMG_2115

If I had planned out the shelves better than I had, I would have built the entire thing using only wood and deck screws (my previous blog posts explain how I used metal brackets and braces). This would have lowered the cost and it would have had a better craft appearance than horribly kludge-like. Nevertheless, it gets the job done–I can see my sets above and continue building on my clearer workspace below.

IMG_2114

In Search of a Better Backpack, Review of The North Face Electra

IMG_2073

Despite being labeled for “Women,” I recommend The North Face Electra backpack for anyone needing a compact, EDC bag that can accommodate a 10.5″ tablet. This is my new work bag that carries the things that I need daily without incurring too much added weight.

IMG_2082

In a previous blog post, I wrote praise for the Magnoli Clothiers’ British Mark VII Gas Mask Bag reproduction, because it is a good everyday bag for carrying an iPad mini, notebook, lunch, and thermos. It is still a good bag, but I sold my iPad Mini after I got Apple’s new 10.5″ iPad Pro, which would not fit in the Mark VII without the removal of the supporting material stitched through the center of the bag. As you can see in the photo above, TNF Electra is slightly larger than the Mark VII. The Mark VII has just shy of 6L capacity whereas the TNF Electra has 12L capacity.

I use the TNF Electra to carry the same, essential things as I used the Mark VII to carry, but the difference between the kits is the iPad upgrade from mini to Pro. Above, you can see the various pockets that differentiate the TNF Electra. It has a padded tablet sleeve in the main zippered compartment, the front flap has a Napoleon-style pocket that I use to hold my cellphone, a small zippered compartment in the lower left for change, keys, or another small item, and a slightly larger zippered compartment at the top of the back beneath the grab handle that holds all of my small, regular use items like hand sanitizer, eye drops, pen, pocket knife, etc.

IMG_2083

The TNF Electra weighs the same as a Jansport Superbreak–12 oz. However, the Superbreak has more than double the capacity–25L. The difference between the two packs is that the Electra has a smaller surface area against the back, and it has more substantial padding in the back and around the tablet sleeve. The Superbreak has thin back padding and no laptop/tablet sleeve. The TNF Electra’s zippers are more subtantial YKK brand than what Jansport uses on the current Superbreak packs.

IMG_2074

The TNF Electra features “Women-specific back panel and shoulder straps.” These have worked fine for me, too. The pack rides high on my back, which I prefer to a pack that is lower, because it allows my back to breathe more and remain cool on my long walks to-and-from work.

IMG_2080

The TNF Electra that I have is black heather and burnt coral metallic (it reminds me of Apple’s Rose Gold). Y liked my bag so much that we got her one in dark eggplant purple dark/amaranth purple.

I like the TNF Electra, because it holds just what I need, is lightweight and compact, and helps me stay cool on my daily long walks.

While its labeling and colors might signify its use by a specific gender, I think its better to focus on one’s needs than on the social signifiers made into a tool–in this case–a useful bag.