The Iliad

Today I finally finished reading The Iliad. ‘Finally’, because I have a habit of losing interest when I start reading a book, then I’ll put it aside and never finish reading it. It’s not the case that the books I read are boring, to the contrary. It’s just difficult for me to spend less time on other things.

The Iliad is a great work of literature. The book I read (ISBN13: 9780192834058) uses Robert Fitzgerald’s translation. There are many different translations and varying opinions on which is the better, but Fitzgerald wrote a beautiful translation in my opinion. When I read the opening sentence, which is as follows:

Anger now be your song, immortal one
Achilles’ anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Achaeans loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men – carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.

I thought it was some of the most beautiful use of the English language I had read. Soldiers aren’t “killed”, but “darkness veils their eyes”. The writing style of the Iliad, as is to be expected, is a bit different from modern literature. I love how it is written. I noticed especially how frequently similes are used to enhance the ferociousness of the events described in the Iliad. For example:

As ravenous wolves come down on lambs and kids
astray from some flock that in hilly country
splits in two by a shepherd’s negligence,
and quickly wolves bear off the defenceless things,
so when Danaans fell on Trojans, shrieking
flight was all they thought of, not of combat.

The Iliad describes a bloody war with a high number of 241 casualties. Most of the time a ‘kill’ is described in fine details. However, the Iliad is so much more than merely a description of a war. It teaches virtues and vices. Most of all, it takes a fatalistic position that man is bound to destiny. The Gods have a divine plan, and the mortals are the pawns which have to abide by the plan. Already in the beginning of the book it is made clear that it is Troy’s destiny to fall, and that knowledge is also what drives the Greeks to persevere. Achilles knew that if he abandoned the war he would live a long life, and that if he would stay he would receive everlasting glory, but he would also meet his end. Achilles chooses the latter destiny, and his acceptance of that destiny is what makes him the greatest hero of all in my opinion.

I was a bit surprised that the most famous memory of the Trojan War, the Trojan Horse, is not in the book at all. I assume it will be mentioned in the Odyssey, which I’m going to read next. Another surprise was the weak performance of Aeneas. When Achilles attacks in book XX, both he and Aeneas are “far and away” the best fighters of both armies. However, he would have been defeated in his two duels with respectively Diomedes and Achilles had the Gods not rescued him. It’s strange that the Romans claim lineage of such an underperforming hero.

Photos taken during my visit to Rome

Finally, over two months after returning home, I got around to uploading some photos taken during my visit to Rome. Many photos didn’t turn out well, but here you can see the Colosseum, the Ara Pacis, and the oculus of the Pantheon.


Ara Pacis, front

Oculus of the Pantheon

The second photo of the Arch of Constantine and other photos which I deleted have an unnatural white sky instead of a blue one. I tried editing the RAW files of the last two with UFRaw to correct it, but I’m not satisfied with the result at all. I did some research on why my photos got mangled, apparantly the phenomenon is called blown highlights or clipping. The Wikipedia entry isn’t very informative on how this can be prevented, but fortunately searching a bit turned up this weblog post. It covers the Olympus E-510, but it should apply to the E-410 as well because they are quite similar. That seems to be very useful advice, and I’ll make sure to experiment with this knowledge to see if I’ll be able to effectively prevent blown highlights. I should read the manual thoroughly as well to get to know the E-410 better.

My short visit to Rome

Some time ago I was thinking how I could spend my time during vacation. My father made some suggestions for travel destinations, which included Rome, which he had visited years ago. Because I’m interested in the period of Classical Antiquity, and because it would give me the opportunity to visit the places in Rome I had heard about during my study, I accepted his offer. For this post, I created two maps with Google Maps for the first and second day of my visit of Rome.

Last Friday on the 27th June, I departed to visit Rome for two days together with my father. At Eindhoven Airport we boarded a flight of Ryanair to Rome Ciampiano Airport.

After we landed, we boarded a bus to travel to the nearest station of the Rome Metro, Anagnina. A bus ticket cost € 1,20 and the metro ticket which is valid for a certain amount of minutes (75 minutes AFAIK, there is no limit on the distance travelled) cost € 1,00. This is incredibly cheap. Unfortunately the metro system only consists of two lines, which is a pity. Most of the time we walked through Rome, we didn’t really bother to figure out how the bus worked. We exited at the station Repubblica.

From there on we went to our hotel, the Eurostars International Palace. We were really satisfied with the hotel. It probably was a bit expensive with four stars, but the costs were acceptable because our visit was short. We boarded the aircraft in The Netherlands at approximately 14:30 and we entered the hotel at approximately 18:00. Because it was already late we didn’t have much possibilities to visit attractions because most are closing soon after 18:00. We walked around the surroundings of the Roman Forum a bit, then we picked a restaurant for dinner. After that we visited the Trevi Fountain and then we went to sleep at our hotel.

On the first day we visited these attractions:

  1. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
  2. Ara Pacis
  3. St. Peter’s Basilica
  4. Vatican Museums
  5. Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II
  6. Church of the Gesu
  7. Sant’Ignazio
  8. Pantheon
  9. Piazza Navona
  10. Column of Marcus Aurelius
  11. Campo de’ Fiori

To get to the Ara Pacis we took the metro from Termini to Spagna. We passed the Mausoleum of Augustus, which is directly east of the Ara Pacis, but unfortunately it was closed for tourists. We chose to skip the St. Peter’s Basilica because the row was long, and we would visit it monday morning when there was no row at all. We never had to wait for longer than five minutes during our entire visit of Rome. During the morning I started to feel a bit sick, so we returned to the hotel after visiting the Vatican Museums. After lying on my back for a few minutes I felt fine again and we started moving. We were pleasantly surprised that the visit to the Vatican Museums also included the Sixtine Chapel. During this day I experienced that I can’t tolerate a temperature close to 35 °C as well as other people. I was sweating immensely, and needed a lot of water to remain standing.

We visited the following on the second day:

  1. National Museum of Rome
  2. Trajan’s Forum
  3. Capitoline Museums
  4. Roman Forum
  5. Colosseum
  6. Basilica of St. John Lateran
  7. Baths of Caracalla

We had already seen Trajan’s Forum from the outside on the day we arrived, but later we realized that it is accessible through a museum which has an entrance situated on the northern side. All three museums demanded most of our time on the second day, there was so much to see. The Roman forum has it’s entrance on the eastern side, which is important to remember because it’s a long walk if you walk around it to search the entrance. The Roman Forum and the Palatine hill were a bit of a disappointment for me, it consisted mostly of ruins and it wasn’t very interesting. The ticket for the Roman Forum included access to the Palatine hill and the Colosseum. This turned out to be an advantage, because we could later bypass the long row of people waiting to buy tickets at the Colosseum. The Colosseum didn’t interest me very much either. After all, it’s a simple structure made out of bricks, it’s nice to have seen it but nothing more. After the Colosseum we walked a long distance to the basilica of St. John Lateran. It was worth it, because this is the most impressive basilica I have seen after St. Peter’s basilica. One more attraction was on the schedule to be visited, the baths of Caracalla. Again this was a long walk, and when we arrived at 18:50 we were told that the baths of Caracalla closed at 18:30. That sucked because I really wanted to see it, the travel guide we read wasn’t specific because it mentions that the baths close one hour before sunset. The plan was to find a restaurant in Trastevere because the travel guide mentioned that some of the best restaurants were to be found there. The distance to Trastevere was too long for us, we were already spent, so we decided to take the metro from Circo Massimo to Termini. Finally we had dinner in a restaurant close to our hotel. The restaurant and the ice cream served there was good, but the pizza was terrible. The pizza bottom was so thin and hard that it broke as soon as I tried to spear it on my fork. And while public transport is very cheap in Rome, the restaurants are rather expensive.

One thing I regret is that I didn’t plan what attractions we would visit in advance. During the morning of the day of our departure, I read the travel guides and Wikipedia for a few hours to determine what I wanted to visit, but that was not enough. I composed a definite schedule of attractions to visit during the evening in Rome, but I missed a few things which I then unnecessarily had to visit a day later.

I brought my new Olympus E-410 DSLR camera along. I still need to write a post which covers this camera, but so far I’m quite pleased with the results, compared to a point-and-shoot camera. The photos I have taken during my visit of Rome will be uploaded soon.

To conclude this post, I’m quite satisfied with my visit to Rome. If I had the choice to do it again, I wouldn’t go during June, July or August. The climate of Rome features temperatures during these months which are too high for my liking. It was great to see the things you normally see in books or on Wikipedia in reality. I probably enjoyed visiting the museums the most.

Installing Ubuntu from a USB flash drive, continued

A while ago I posted about installing Ubuntu on USB flash drive so that you no longer need to throw away CD’s. I wrote that the process should be made easier for inexperienced users. When I investigated what options there are for installing other distributions on a USB flash drive, I found an application for Fedora called liveusb-creator. This is exactly what I was looking for. I proposed an idea to copy this application for Ubuntu in Ubuntu Brainstorm, but apparently an application to do this is already being developed for Ubuntu 8.10. It’s still experimental work, but this is good news. Certainly this is essential for netbooks which don’t have a built-in optical drive.

EDIT: a specification for USB installation images has recently been approved for the next release of Ubuntu.

I’ve started using OpenID

My collection of user accounts for various websites has grown a lot during the years I’ve been active on the Internet. I estimate I have more than 30 user accounts, and I need to keep track of user names and passwords for all of them. Fortunately, technology has been developed to solve this problem, it’s a shared identity service which is called OpenID. If you have an OpenID, you can use your OpenID to authenticate your identity with every website which supports OpenID.

Apparently I already had an OpenID when I read the OpenID website. I already had a account registered, because using the Akismet plugin for WordPress requires an API key which is provided to you when you register an account. Somehow using the OpenID associated with my account didn’t work, when I tried to authenticate with my OpenID told me I had to log in to my account, when I already was logged in. So I decided to register an OpenID at another OpenID provider, myOpenID. This is my OpenID identity page now.

I downloaded the WP-OpenID plugin for WordPress and installed on my English and Dutch weblog. Now I can use it to log in to my administrator account, and visitors can use it to place comments. It works quite nicely, but I think OpenID support should be included out of the box in WordPress so it is more accessible. As you can read on the OpenID website, several important websites provide OpenID’s or support them. Unfortunately most of the websites I visit still don’t use it, I hope this will improve because OpenID makes your life on the Internet a lot easier.

Installing Ubuntu from a USB flash drive

Practically every Linux distribution, including my favorite Ubuntu, can be downloaded as an ISO image. Traditionally these ISO images are then burned to a CD recordable or a DVD recordable. When that is done, you load the CD-R in the optical disc drive of the PC on which you want to install the Linux distribution and you restart the PC. The optical disc drive is then used as a boot device, and the Linux distribution can then be installed. In Ubuntu’s case, the installation is started after Ubuntu itself is started, because Ubuntu is a Live CD in case you download the Desktop CD version.

These times USB flash drives are quite popular, and they have some advantages compared to CD’s and DVD’s. The most important advantage in my opinion is that USB flash drives are reusable while CD and DVD recordables are not. Other advantages are portability, performance, reliability and ruggedness. I often have to throw away CD recordables which contain old versions of Ubuntu, I’d like to avoid wasting CD’s. Fortunately, it’s also possible to use USB flash drives for installing Linux distributions.

I have found instructions on the Internet. Because Ubuntu’s ISO image is supposed to fit on a CD it’s file size is approximately 700 MB, so you need a USB flash drive which has a capacity of at least 1 GB. If you are using Windows, follow these instructions. If you are already using Linux, follow these instructions on the Ubuntu Wiki and use the script. These instructions are very easy to follow. But I’ve experienced that these instructions fail to mention an important step, to be able to use the USB flash drive as a boot device I had to change a setting in the BIOS of all three PC’s on which I have booted from a USB flash drive.

You need to set the USB flash drive as the first hard disk drive which is going to be used as the boot device. By default the USB flash drive is set to be the boot device after the hard disk drive(s), and then it will not work because the PC will boot from the hard disk drive. There are several different BIOS manufacturers and the way to do this is depends on which BIOS is used by the PC. On the PC’s I have tested, I have encountered two different BIOS versions, one computer had an Asus A8N-E motherboard which used a BIOS produced by Phoenix Technologies (Award BIOS), the other two computers used motherboards manufactured by MSI and used a BIOS produced by American Megatrends (AMI BIOS).

To access the BIOS, you need to press the Delete key soon after starting up the PC. In the AwardBIOS you need to go to the “Boot” menu, then choose “Hard disk drives”. Then you should see the name of the USB flash drive below the hard disk drives in a numbered list. You need to place the USB flash drive on the top of the list with the “+” key, and then press F10 to save the change and exit the BIOS. In the AMIBIOS you need to choose “Advanced BIOS Features”, “Boot Sequence”, “Hard Disk Drives”.

After I had followed these steps, everything worked perfectly. Unfortunately, this information isn’t found on Ubuntu’s website, but on other websites. The instructionson the Ubuntu Wiki don’t count, because those are “hidden”, i.e. you won’t find them unless you search for them well, this way the average user will never find them unless they are on the website. Notice that when you choose the links “Get Ubuntu” and then “Download Ubuntu” on the website, you will arrive at this page after choosing a download server? Here you can find links to pages explaining how you can verify the MD5 sum and how to burn the ISO image to a CD recordable. Exactly this page should also contain a link to a page explaining how to install Ubuntu from a USB flash drive, instructions for doing so should be made more accessible to users. Even if the instructions I linked to are relatively easy, some people which lack knowledge might be put off by it’s seeming complexity. Perhaps an application with a graphical user interface could be created, which would enable the user to select an ISO image and a USB flash drive, and which would then automatically copy the files to the USB flash drive.

Other hardware on my wish list

My previous posts covered which (sub)notebook and which hardware for my new PC I want to buy, but there’s more on my wish list. I’m a perfectionist who spends a lot of time thinking about exactly what I should buy, if it has the right price/quality ratio a.k.a. bang for the buck and what priority I should give that purchase. In my case, I don’t deliberate so carefully on my wish list because I don’t want to spend too much money, the point is I want to be satisfied with what I buy, I don’t want to be disappointed. In this post I’ll write what other hardware is on my wish list and what I want to purchase within a few months, descending from high to low priority and including an approximate price.

DSLR camera – Olympus E-410 – € 350

Currently I use a point-and-shoot camera, a Canon PowerShot A510. It’s a nice camera for it’s class, but I want better image quality. Not only the quality of the camera itself influences image quality, but the file format in which the camera saves photographs does as well. One of my gripes with the A510 is that it saves photographs in the JPEG format which uses lossy compression, and therefore decreases image quality. I think a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera can meet my demands for better image quality. SLR’s also have the option to save photographs as raw image files, which avoids the JPEG format’s compression artifacts. DSLR camera’s are sold without a lens or with a kit lens. I don’t think I need a separate lens, which is also more expensive, so I’ll buy an DSLR with a kit lens. My budget for an DSLR camera is €500 maximum, which restricts the choice considerably, but still a lot of SLR’s can be found in this price range. I think the Olympus E-410 would be my best choice, it received a favorable review, it’s compact and one of the cheapest DSLR’s at € 350. I think that’s quite cheap for an DSLR, I’ve also seen the Olympus E-400 at € 300, but according to the review of the E-410 it’s successor has a better image processor and other advantages. I know the Olympus E-420 and Canon EOS 450D are coming, but those will probably be considerably more expensive at their introduction.

Wireless residential gateway – Linksys WRT45GL – € 55

When my parents signed up for an ADSL Internet connection years ago, the Internet service provider included a residential gateway from the SpeedTouch brand. Some time ago that residential gateway was replaced with a SpeedTouch 546 v6 because the old one died. The SpeedTouch 546 doesn’t provide much features in it’s web interface, one thing which I miss in particular is the ability to use quality of service (QoS). I need this feature because three other PC’s are hooked up to the residential gateway, sharing the Internet connection. My brother uses his Internet connection intensively just like me, and if I’m downloading something my PC will consume the entire bandwidth of the connection, which gives him tons of lag if he’s be gaming online. With QoS certain traffic can be prioritised so the bandwidth will be shared equally. I want the Linksys WRT45GL because the WRT45G-series was the first residential gateway device that had it’s firmware source code released under the GNU GPL. That opened the possibility to create alternative firmware for the device. These alternative firmware projects provide the features I want. I highly appreciate the fact that it’s open source, which gives me more choice and features. It’s also nicely priced at € 55 and it supports Wi-Fi as well, which would be very useful if it works. In the past I tried getting a wireless SpeedTouch residential gateway to work, but somehow the reception of the Wi-Fi signal was very bad in my house, barely a few meters. The house I live can’t be the cause, it’s just a renovated farm without stuff which could influence Wi-Fi reception. That SpeedTouch was probably a bad apple, I assume the WRT45GL will work. Even if it doesn’t, it would still be a very worthwhile purchase because of it’s features.

Video game console – Playstation 3 – € 389

On PC monitors we have already been able to use high resolutions for a long time in PC games, the low resolutions used by console games turned me off. Now that this generation of consoles can finally display games in a high 1080p resolution (except for the Nintendo Wii) and have fine-tuned Internet multiplay options, I’m getting interested in buying a video game console. The Wii isn’t interesting for me because it can’t display in 1080p, lacks in graphical quality of it’s games and aims at a different public than the more serious gamers with it’s different control scheme. The Xbox 360 is produced by Microsoft, which means it’s not an option for me because I boycott Microsoft for it’s unethical business practices. The Playstation 3 remains as my only option. Currently there aren’t much interesting games available for it yet, so that’s a reason to wait for games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Final Fantasy XIII, Killzone 2 and Soulcalibur IV. Another reason to wait is that we will most likely see hardware revisions of the PS3 which will be cheaper, consume less energy, are smaller and possibly offer more features. Just like the original PS2 which also had many hardware revisions.

Monitor – Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP – € 636,89

I’m using the Dell UltraSharp 2007WFP now, which is a 20 inch monitor with an S-IPS panel. In the future I might want to use a 24 inch monitor for the PS3, because almost all 24 inch monitors use a WUXGA resolution of 1920 by 1200 pixels. This resolution is enough to display the PS3’s 1080p resolution without scaling it down. The 2408WFP features DisplayPort and HDMI connections besides the usual DVI-D connection. So a PS3 can be connected directly with a HDMI cable, a DVI converter isn’t even necessary. Besides the advantages of the larger resolution for the PS3, a larger resolution is nice to have as well when you’re using it with a PC. Unfortunately the 2408WFP also has it’s downsides, as reported in this and this review, the input lag worries me because I often play first-person shooters. Default color accuracy isn’t very good, so I’ll need to borrow or buy a colorimeter to calibrate the monitor. Even so, if I’d buy a 24 inch monitor now, I’d buy the 2408WFP. But because I can still use my 2007WFP, I think I’ll wait a bit, and see if interesting new 24 inch monitors will become available. The LED backlight is an interesting development, Acer has recently released larger monitors with LED backlights. Further in the future we might see OLED monitors.

Mobile phone/smartphone – Neo FreeRunner – $ 399

The mobile phone I’m using now is a Motorola RAZR V3i. I only use for it phone calls, sometimes SMS. Checking the time and setting alarms is very useful functionality for me, since I’ve been using this phone I’ve abandoned my wrist watch and alarm clock. It has a camera, but like all other mobile phones the quality of the camera sucks compared to stand-alone camera’s, I’ve never found a use for the camera. It’s a nice phone, but it’s got some disadvantages. The V3i is not a smartphone, and the fact that it is a clamshell design bothers me a bit, a candybar design is more practical. It’s getting dated because it doesn’t support HSDPA, which is getting cheaper these days. The smartphone which I intend to buy as a replacement for the V3i is the Neo FreeRunner, which primarily attracts me because this smartphone runs on Linux and allows the user to customize the software. However, it doesn’t include 3G among it’s impressive featureset, and the phone doesn’t look good in my eyes. That’s why I’ll probably wait for it’s successor. The Nokia N810 also runs Linux and is allows users to modify it’s software, but unfortunately it’s not an alternative because it’s an Internet tablet which can’t connect to cellular networks. In the meantime I could buy a phone to bridge the gap until there’s a successor for the Neo FreeRunner, the Samsung SGH-U100 is appealing because of it’s small size. Even though it’s the slimmest phone in the world, I doubt if I should just buy a phone because of it’s size, is it that important for me? The U100 can be found for approximately € 200. If features are important, the Nokia 6120 Classic would be a good choice. If a low energy consumption with a long stand-by time is important, I could go for the Nokia 3110 Evolve, which features 370 hours of stand-by time versus 200 hours for the V3i. If the price is more important than features, size or energy consumption I think I should go with a budget phone. What I also value But I shouldn’t be too eager to spend money on a new phone, because my V3i still works.

Choosing the hardware for a new PC

I always buy the separate pieces of hardware required for a PC myself, and then assemble it, or pay the hardware store to assemble it. I never buy factory built PC’s from large producers like Dell, HP or Acer, building your own PC allows you to completely customize it so that it meets your demands better. I like to play computer games a lot and I don’t want to spend more than € 800. Dell and friends either don’t offer PC’s with a graphics card that is powerful enough for my needs, or their comparable configurations are a bit more expensive than the collection of separate pieces of hardware that I selected. This time building a silent PC is also a priority, most factory built PC’s aren’t quiet enough.

The PC I currently use allows me to play most of the latest games I like, but it’s two and a half years old now, which is old for a high performance PC. It has an AMD Athlon 3500+ CPU, 2 GB RAM and a GeForce 7800 GT graphics card. Most of the time I play Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Counter-Strike: Source. My PC can handle CS:S fine, but ET:QW often displays a temporary decrease in the frame rate if a lot of activity is going on. Those frame rate drops can be quite disruptive and often result in my untimely death. So I need a newer graphics card, and a newer CPU would be required as well because the Athlon 3500+ is still a single core CPU, while quad core CPU’s are already available for some time. A new CPU also means a new motherboard, and it would be wise to get faster new RAM and a new hard drive as well. So in fact I’m going to replace all the contents of my enclosure, including the enclosure itself. I could keep my currently enclosure, but I want to get a better one.

I intend to buy most of the hardware I want at Azerty, a Dutch Internet store with a very large assortment of hardware. I’ll only need to buy the graphics card at a second Internet store. All these part, including delivery costs, cost approximately € 770. I expect to sell my old PC for approximately € 200, so the real cost for me will be € 570. I think that’s rather cheap. hardware has gotten cheaper in general, two and half years ago I paid more than € 350 for a GeForce 7800 GT graphics card, now it’s less than € 150 for a GeForce 8800 GT.

Enclosure – Antec Solo – € 75,23

Compared to my old enclosure, an Antec SLK3700BQE, the Antec Solo is a serious improvement. The SLK3700BQE has an annoying door which constantly needs to opened to push the power button or to access the DVD drive, the Solo doesn’t have a door. The Solo possesses some features the SLK3700BQE doesn’t have, like dampening sheets at the side panels inside the enclosure for noise isolation and elastic suspension for the hard drives to prevent hard drive vibration and noise. The Solo is one of the enclosures which is recommended by Silent PC Review, a popular website covering PC silencing. Arguably the Solo still looks a bit cheap with it’s black finish and silver grey front, but that color would actually fit in very nicely with Dell 2007WFP monitor, Logitech Z-5500 5.1 speakerset and Logitech UltraX keyboard, which also are black with silver grey. The Solo is a bit more expensive than other enclosures because it doesn’t come with a power supply. For example, the Antec NSK4480 is € 10 cheaper at the same internet store and comes with a 380W power supply. That is all right for me because I want to buy a separate power supply anyway, which is more quiet and efficient. The higher price of the Solo is worth it for the extra features. I have also considered the Antec P182, which offers some interesting advantages like a separate chamber for the power supply and a nicer design. It’s an interesting choice but unfortunately the P182 is € 40 more expensive, so I stick with the Solo.

Power supply – Enermax PRO 82+, 425 Watt – € 64,32

The new Enermax PRO and MODU series are currently the highest ranking recommended power supplies at Silent PC Review. This power supply is very efficient and quiet, which is exactly what I want. 425 Watt is enough for me, and I’ll settle with the PRO version which doesn’t have modular cabling like the MODU version. The 425 Watt MODU is € 10 more expensive, which isn’t much, so I might want to buy that one anyway even if the advantage of modular cabling isn’t that important. With modular cabling you can get rid of unnecessary cabling in the enclosure easier, which might be better for airflow and look more tidy. The next best thing before the PRO and MODU series is the Corsair VX450W, which is just a little more than € 2 cheaper. In case the PRO series wasn’t available at my internet store yet I’d choose that power supply.

Motherboard – Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3 – € 86,97

For the Intel Core 2 Duo processor I want to use I need a motherboard which supports this processor. I’m not going to use overclocking or RAID, which means that cheaper motherboards will be adequate for me. I’ve settled on the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3 for the simple reasons that this motherboard uses Intel’s current mainstream chipset, the P35, and because it’s one of the cheaper solutions. The cheaper P35 motherboards can be found for € 20 less, but what sets the P35-Ds3 apart from others is that it uses a RealTek ALC 889A codec for it’s onboard audio, which is a better than the onboard audio solutions provided by other motherboards. This is important to me because I don’t want to buy a separate sound card. An alternative is the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS4, which posesses DTS Connect among it’s extra features over the DS3. DTS Connect can convert analog 5.1 sound sent by games to a DTS, so that the analog 5.1 sound can be sent to the speakerset over a digital connection. This could have a positive influence on the sound quality, because apparantly the 889A codec is still inferior to the more expensive separate sound cards when an analog connection is used, according to this review. But I still don’t understand the advantages and disadvantages of DTS Connect and a digital connection completely, so I’m not really sure. Besides a choice between an analog connection or a digital connection with DTS Connect, there also is a choice between waiting for motherboards with the P45 chipset or buying a motherboard with the current P35 chipset. Because it’s better to wait with buying a graphics card at this moment, it’s probably a good idea to wait for the P45 as well because the new graphics cards and the P45 will be introduced around the same time.

Processor – Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 – € 146,62

Reviews here and here conclude that buying  an Intel Core 2 Duo processor with the latest Wolfdale or Yorkfield core is the best choice now. AMD’s processors might be a bit cheaper, but they are outperformed by the Core 2 Duo’s and they consume more power and run more hot. I could buy a E8200 or E8400 dual core processor, or I could buy a Q9300 quad core processor. A quad core processor only makes sense if you use multithreaded software which can take advantage of quad core processors, which is made clear in those two reviews. I might spent some time in the future doing 3D rendering with Blender, but probably not enoughto warrant paying the extra price for a quad core processor. However, the E8200 can currently be found for under € 140 while the slightly older Q6600 quad core can be found for just over € 170. The price difference isn’t much, so why not. But first I’m going to wait a bit before the prices of the new Wolfdale and Yorkfield cores settle down in comparison with the Conroe and Kentsfield cores which preceded them. The E6750 and E8200 are currently equally priced, but some Internet stores are probably overcharging on the E8200 because demand is higher than supply. This is especially evident with the Q9300 which is € 220 at minimum while the Q6600 can be found for € 170.

Thermal interface material – Arctic Silver 5 – € 4,14

This review shows that Arctic Silver 5 isn’t the best, but it still reduces temperatures with nearly 10 °C compared to the thermal grease that is pre-applied to the Intel heatsink (which is shipped with their processors). With the exception of Intel’s thermal grease, the differences are small. Arctic Silver 5 is the best which is available at my Internet store and it’s not very expensive.

Thermal interface material remover – Arctic Silver ArctiClean – € 5,00

If the need arises to remove thermal interface material, Arctic Silver ArctiClean might come in handy.

Heatsink – Thermalright HR-01 Plus – € 36,37

Silent PC Review recommends a lot of heatsinks. Initially I wanted to buy the Scythe Ninja, but after reading complaints about it’s push-pin mounting system I decided to go with the Thermalright HR-01 Plus which uses a better mounting system. The HR-01 Plus is an improved version of the HR-01 which is recommended by Silent PC Review, and does support socket 775 unlike it’s predecessor. The Thermalright Ultra 120-eXtreme is at the top of the list of recommended heatsinks, but it’s € 45,26 at my Internet store. That’s not a huge price difference, but I think it’s overkill to pay so much money for ‘just’ a heatsink. Besides, according to it’s review at Silent PC Review it doesn’t give an advantage compared to the Ninja or HR-01 Plus in situations with low airflow like I intend to create. What’s important to me as well is that I’m able to mount a 120 mm fan on this heatsink. If I wanted to cut costs I’d probably buy an Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro for € 16,18.

120 mm fan – Scythe Slip Stream SY1225SL12L – € 7,00 x 2

I will buy two of these, I will place one on the HR-01 Plus, and I will use the other to replace the stock exhaust fan of the Antec Solo, which isn’t as silent as the SY1225SL12L. The SY1225SL12L runs at a fixed low 800 rpm, so I won’t need to use tricks to undervolt it to get it to run slower. According to these test results it’s very quiet and performs good.

Graphics card – Sparkle SF-PX88GT512D3-HP Cool-pipe 3 – € 174,95

The NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT with 512 MB performs better than the ATi Radeon HD 3780 with 512 MB according to this review. The difference isn’t large. There are reasons to buy an ATi graphics card, ATi actively supports the development of an open source driver for Linux, unlike NVIDIA. I use Ubuntu Linux when I’m not using Windows XP for gaming, so that is very important to me. A lower idle power consumption than the 8800 GT is also important. However, performance is more important to me at this moment. There isn’t a large price difference between the 8800 GT and the 3780 HD. As I said silence is important for this new PC, so want to buy a graphics card that is passively cooled. The Sparkle SF-PX88GT512D3-HP Cool-pipe 3 is a passively cooled 8800 GT, according to this review it’s a nice product. Unfortunately this graphics card is the single product which is not available at Azerty, where I buy all my other parts. I need to buy it at another Internet store, which means added delivery costs and less convenience than buying everything at one store. Azerty does sell a passively cooled Radeon HD 3780, the Sapphire Ultimate Radeon HD 3870, for € 158,46. Another alternative is to buy the cheapest versions of the 8800 GT or Radeon HD 3780 which are available at Azerty – the XpertVision GeForce 8800 GT or the PEAK Radeon HD 3870 which sell for respectively € 130,90 and € 129,06 – and mount the Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 passive graphics card cooler on them. The second revision of the Accelero S1 costs € 15,68 at Azerty. I’m not sure if I’d rather go the ‘safe’ way and buy a graphics card which is cooled passively out of the box but a bit more expensive, or if I’d buy the cheapest actively cooled graphics card and mount an Accelero S1 on it. However, at this moment waiting would probably be the wisest choice, because the future products of NVIDIA and ATi/AMD, respectively the GT200 and the RV770, could possibly be released in the beginning of June. Those could offer a serious improvement over the current generation of graphics cards.

Random Access Memory – Kingston KVR667D2N5K2/2G (2 modules of 1024 MB, PC-5300) – € 30,18

RAM is really cheap these days, it’s tempting to buy 4 GB of memory but that probably won’t be necessary. I chose RAM with a PC5300 specification, which means that it has a clock frequency of 333 Mhz. This means the memory has a speed synchronous to the speed of the Front Side Bus of the E8200, which is 1333 Mhz. Because a quad data rate is used, this translates to 333 Mhz as well. This means that memory with a lower specification than PC5300 would slow the E8200 down. Memory with a faster specification won’t give better performance unless overclocking is used, which I don’t intend to do.

Hard disk drive – Samsung SpinPoint F1 320 GB – € 51,82

The SpinPoint F1 series has been around for some time already, but only more expensive models with more storage space were available until now. Because 320 GB is enough for me, I don’t want to pay more for more storage space. The 320 GB model also features just one platter, which means that it consumes less power and performs better because of it’s high data density. According to this (German) review, it’s a very good hard drive. Western Digital also released a 320 GB hard disk drive with a single platter, but according to this review it’s performance is limited by it’s high random access time. Performance, silence and price are all three important factors for me when it comes to choosing a hard disk drive. This hard disk drive excels in none of those aspects, but it is the best compromise.

DVD burner – Lite-On LH-20A1S – € 21,27

I almost never burn CD’s or DVD’s, so all I need is cheap DVD burner which is just good enough. It should have a SATA connection because I don’t like those wide PATA cables obstructing the airflow in my enclosure. Almost all hard disk drives already use SATA, but CD/DVD drives/burners seem to a bit slower in switching to SATA. It should also have a black bezel, because my enclosure is black as well. The Lite-On LH-20A1S meets those requirements and performs well according to this review.

Antistatic wrist strap – € 7,87

An antistatic wrist strap prevents static electricity from possibly damaging the hardware. I’ve never used them before and I’ve never damaged hardware with electrostatic discharge, but apparantly it’s better to be safe than damage that expensive hardware.

Considerations on buying a new notebook

The notebook I currently own, a Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo 1505 Pi, does not satisfy my requirements. I bought it ten months ago, but already after one month of use the paint at the back of the display was showing signs of wear. Some months later, a piece of plastic attached to the edge of the enclosure near the hinge of the display broke off. I can notice easily that the display is lit very unevenly by the backlight. The design of the enclosure looks cheap, the build quality isn’t good enough either because the display can be subject to flex and because that piece of plastic broke off. Because it’s got a 15,4 inch display it’s not

portable and heavy. It’s battery life is limited to approximately a little more than three hours if the display is set to the lowest brightness, which is just barely enough for me. These are serious disadvantages because I never use this notebook as a desktop replacement – for which a 15,4 inch display would be a good thing – but always travel with my notebook. The most important hardware specifications of the notebook are a Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 CPU, 1024 MB RAM and a 80 GB hard disk. The CPU was relatively new at the moment when I bought it, but because I use my notebook exclusively for word processing and other tasks which don’t demand any serious performance, it’s a waste of money. Retrospectively, it wasn’t a smart choice to pay € 900 for this notebook. I’ll never buy Fujitsu-Siemens notebooks again for the foreseeable future.

A more portable replacement for my current notebook

I have been reviewing for some time already what my options are for buying a new notebook. After my disappointment with the Amilo 1505 Pi, my requirements are that it is a more portable notebook with a 13,3 inch as the maximum diagonal size for the display, a long battery life, good build quality, attractive design and preferably a LED-backlit display. It would be best if the notebook came with a Linux distribution pre-installed instead of Windows, so I don’t have to pay the Microsoft tax for an OS which I will certainly replace with a Linux distribution as soon as possible anyway. Finally, price is also an important concern because I’m a student, I don’t want to spend more than € 1000 but preferably less. Some notebooks which could meet these requirements partially or completely caught my attention.

The Dell XPS M1330 is beautiful, it’s got a 13,3 inch display and it’s weight starts at 1,79 kg with the LED-backlit display and 4-cell battery. Currently the cheapest M1330 with the option for the LED-backlit display included costs € 929 at Dell’s Dutch website. Dell started selling the M1330 with Ubuntu pre-installed some time ago, but not yet in the Netherlands. At the Dell USA website, the same configuration of the M1330 with Ubuntu costs $ 1129, which is € 715. I’m not sure if I’d want to buy the M1330 at Dell USA, besides the hassle of getting someone to ship it to the Netherlands I’d probably have a problem with the charger because different power sockets are used in the USA.

The VAIO TZ is even more portable than the M1330 at 1,19 kilo with an 11,1 display. Almost seven hours of battery life is great. The design also exceeds the M1330, the TZ is the best looking notebook I have ever seen. Unfortunately, prices start above € 1400 and it comes with tons of bloatware pre-installed with Windows. The ThinkPad X300 is a great notebook as well, but because prices start at higher than $2900 it’s out of the question. The Apple Macbook is priced at a similar level as the M1330, € 938,91 with a student discount. It’s slightly heavier at 2,27 kg, the hardware specifications are comparable to the M1330, but Apple’s notebooks are arguably better designed. The problem is that I don’t like the white version, and the black version costs over € 300 extra. I’m not sure if I’d want to use Mac OS X, or if I’d want to buy Apple products. If I think about Apple’s image, I think about fanboys and hordes of mindless people who buy iPod’s without evaluating the competition in the portable media player market. With a M1330 or VAIO TZ I’d feel more exclusive than with an Apple MacBook.

The disadvantages of all four portable notebooks are that they are quite expensive, more expensive than equal 15,4 inch models (for example, the XPS M1530 is nearly € 200 cheaper than the M1330). With the exception of the VAIO TZ and X300 which use low voltage CPU’s to provide more battery life, most portable notebooks use the standard CPU’s and don’t provide much more battery life than my current notebook.

The Asus Eee PC’s successors

An interesting alternative to these expensive portables arrived in the form of the Asus Eee PC. This notebook has a 7 inch display, weighs only 0,92 kg, gives more than three hours of battery life, comes pre-installed with Xandros Linux (which can be replaced with Ubuntu of course, which I prefer) and best of all prices start at just above € 300. Initially I wasn’t interested in the Eee PC because 7 inch is just to small. However, recently news arrived that a new model, the Eee PC 900, will feature a larger 8,9 inch display. The Intel Atom CPU will be used, which will provide increased battery life up to 8 hours. Other producers are planning to release competitors for the Eee PC which will have larger 10 inch displays and use the Intel Atom CPU as well. MSI will release the Wind notebook and ECS presented the G10IL which contains HSDPA as a distinguishing feature. Gigabyte, Acer and Dell also intend to introduce Eee PC competitors. I’d consider 10 inch the minimum size to work comfortably with, hopefully these new versions with larger displays will be available soon with a low price.

Still, the Eee PC and it’s competitors don’t look as good as the VAIO TZ, and the 11,1 inch display of the TZ is a better compromise between portability and comfort. Ideally, Sony would take the exterior of the TZ and replace it’s internals with lower spec hardware similar to the Eee PC so the price of the TZ would be drastically reduced.