the one that Has It All - swiss-army knife "modern" workstation

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the one that Has It All - swiss-army knife "modern" workstation

Postby xjas » 2018-3-19 @ 22:50

I had this one apart to do a "quick" CPU upgrade and it turned into a bit of a project, so I figured I'd make a thread about it. This is the closest thing I have to a "tweener" but it's also my main workstation and one of the most powerful and modern machines I have in regular use. It doesn't have any specific purpose, just a machine I get a lot of stuff done on including some of my actual work when I'm doing it from home. Work, music production, video editing, gaming, coding, software preservation, interfacing with retro gear, etc. You name it, it Does That.

Here it is, a beastly ex-server-room 4U rack case with a bunch of parts I mostly found in disposal piles inside:
1.jpg
2.jpg
3.jpg
From right to left: parallel port (PCI card), Audigy 2 ZS, SCSI card, DB15 MIDI (/game-) port, connected to the Audigy (& extra USB ports connected to the motherboard), Firewire & SATA header, video card, serial port header (onboard.) Everything is hooked up and fully supported by the OS.

Of course you wanna see the specs, so here they are:
Asus P5Q
Modded final BIOS from some overclocker's site
Xeon E5440 quad-core (12MB cache, 333*8.5=2833MHz, 1333MHz FSB)
8GB PC2-6400 (2x2 matched pairs) in dual-channel interleaved mode
Sapphire HD4670 1GB (best single-slot card I've gotten my hands on so far)
Audigy 2 ZS 5.1 (running all six channels independently into a mixer rather than an "actual" 5.1 setup)
Onboard 5.1 HDA audio w/SPDIF
PCI parallel port, onboard serial port
Onboard Firewire AND additional Firewire port on the Audigy 2
Adaptec 29160 UW SCSI (66MHz PCI-X card in a 32-bit slot)
USB wireless-G dongle (who needs fast wi-fi??)

1TB Western Digital boot drive
2 x 2TB Hitachi drives in RAID1 (my home backup storage for a bunch of machines)
SATA DVD+/-RW DL
IDE LS120
IDE Zip100
Front panel CF+SM+MSP+SD+XD+etc. reader

My goal for this system is maximum connectivity & capability, and I think I've achieved that pretty well. :)

It's actually the case & some parts from Bringing Back Black, my first (now hopelessly broken) build thread on here a long time ago, but it's not nearly the same system anymore. That one was based on a Foxconn board with a single-core Sempron. I stalled halfway through the build and ended up taking it apart again & selling off some of the components. This current iteration is much more capable.

Here’s where it lives:
4.jpg
5.jpg
^^ this isn't even everything that's usually hooked up to it.
Last edited by xjas on 2018-3-20 @ 00:13, edited 3 times in total.
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: The one that Has It All - my "modern" workstation

Postby xjas » 2018-3-19 @ 22:59

Every spec you could want from Hardinfo, if you're into that (note: current configuration, post-upgrades described below. Long, scrolly pic.)
hard.png


dualhed.jpg

Incidentally here's where I control it from. The rack is under the desk at the blue arrow. The right monitor (EUC AGN|PRO EP19AV, and yes, I am slowly updating all my old threads to get rid of photob*cket links where I can!) is connected to the 8-port KVM via VGA and also runs my P233MMX DOS machine (other rack system behind the G4 Cube), 386DX (under the desk) and whatever else I want to plug in (e.g. the G4 Cube at the moment.) The left monitor (Dell 2001FP) has a Mac Mini on the VGA port, MSX (Yamaha CX5MII/128) on composite, Roland sampler on S-Video, and a HDMI switch (for this workstation & the AppleTV) on its DVI port. It took me a long time to get everything sorted & routed for easy switching in this setup.

(The Mac Mini can also take up both screens as it's also on the KVM. The MSX can "dual-head" but only in mirror mode as it's on both via a composite splitter. ;) )
Last edited by xjas on 2018-3-19 @ 23:35, edited 1 time in total.
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: The one that Has It All - my "modern" workstation

Postby xjas » 2018-3-19 @ 23:11

First up, the CPU upgrade - it was running a 3.16GHz Core 2 Duo E8500 which was fine for most things, but did tend to run out of steam. I got my hands on this Xeon E5440 (quad core, 12MB cache) pre-modded for LGA775 for a song. It's slightly lower clocked than the C2D (2.83 GHz vs 3.16) but I wanted those two more REAL cores for multiprocessing. On the left, the old & on the right, the new:

DSC02072.JPG

I also swapped the stock cooler with this beefier one. I know not many of you are fans (HEH) of these Intel coolers, but the one on the right is actually pretty nice. I suspect it came from a 771 Xeon in the first place. The old one is hopeless crap but it did the job for the C2D.

DSC02069.JPG
DSC02073.JPG

The upgrade got me a nice boost across the board and essentially no loss. For heavily multi-threaded stuff it’s sometimes even more than twice as fast (Blender, audio/video processing, specifically-MP Matlab/Octave code, Smallpt) and in single-threaded the extra cache seems to make up for the slight loss in clock speed.

Even just cruising around the desktop feels a ton snappier. Modern Linux has really good thread management and takes full advantage of all the cores you give it. Playing 720/1080p Youtube videos (note that I’m using software decoding here!) is significantly less "stressful" and leaves tons more headroom.

Before (C2D E8500):
e8500.jpg

After (Xeon E5440):
xeon.jpg

Look at the CPU usage and the temps in the second pic - not even breaking a sweat. It had been running a solid couple hours at this point and all four cores were at full speed. Nice. :)

I tried benchmarking some games (Talos Principle, Nexuiz, Distance) but didn’t notice any difference - I suspect they’re not CPU limited on this machine.

Anyway... that was "supposed" to be it, a quick chip swap and done, but of course it turned into a big 'while I have this out...' tweak, clean & rebuild. As these things happen. More later...
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: the one that Has It All - swiss-army knife "modern" workstation

Postby fitzpatr » 2018-3-20 @ 02:48

Neat system, and nice upgrade!

I had an Asus P5QL-E on the P43 chipset, and it failed for me pretty early in its life. It was still functional, but unstable. Hopefully, you will not have that issue.
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Re: the one that Has It All - swiss-army knife "modern" workstation

Postby xjas » 2018-3-20 @ 02:58

^^ Thanks! It's been ROCK solid with the E8500 for the last couple years. Happily it looks like the Xeon will carry on that trend; I've been using it since yesterday and by all metrics it seems just as stable. 26 hrs uptime with nary a blip. I wonder if there was something wrong with your board?

Unfortunately with the new cooler it's quite a bit louder, the old one would spin down to nearly silent but this one is noticeably 'always on.' It still gets easily drowned out by my espresso machine or tea kettle behind a partition & across the room though.
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: the one that Has It All - swiss-army knife "modern" workstation

Postby NJRoadfan » 2018-3-21 @ 23:27

The fan on your Xeon would have been the stock cooler for the E8500. So.... where is all your video I/O? :lol:
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Re: the one that Has It All - swiss-army knife "modern" workstation

Postby xjas » 2018-3-22 @ 00:26

Weird... I got the P5Q & E8500 together with the crappy (left) cooler already installed. I wonder if the previous owner downgraded it for noise or something? I never had any heat problems with that setup as it was. I don't remember where I got the good cooler anymore, it might have been in a Q6600 machine I parted out; seems to do the job fine on a quad core.

Heh, yeah I was kind of surprised to find such a recent mobo with no onboard video. I'm running a single-slot HD4670, you can see it in the open pic. :D So I have a single back panel bracket with DVI, VGA & HDMI ports which makes for a tidy setup. I'd like to upgrade it to something like an RX 550, mostly to take advantage of the vastly improved new AMDGPU Linux drivers, but it's not a big priority right now. Sticking to single-slot cards keeps things tons easier to manage inside (I hate those stupid modern freight train graphics cards.)
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: the one that Has It All - swiss-army knife "modern" workstation

Postby bjwil1991 » 2018-3-22 @ 18:44

Interesting system and case. Where can I find one? I'd like one for my modern machine.
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Re: the one that Has It All - swiss-army knife "modern" workstation

Postby xjas » 2018-3-22 @ 20:28

They've been made for years, lots of companies use them for servers and stuff (and often flog them cheap when whatever machine is in it becomes obsolete.) Just search for "4U rack ATX case" and lots of options should come up. The U number refers to how many rack units tall it is, you can also get 3U, 2U, 1U, etc. This probably isn't helpful to you but here's one on my local CL, for example.

...that said, I wish it had a few more internal HDD bays & expansion slot brackets. My Antec Sonata III actually has a bit more expandability.
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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