Four months ago I was pleased to have put together a reasonably useful gaming system from mostly junkbox components plus an ancient Goodwill chassis. Unfortunately, on Monday June 24th I noticed that the machine was running extremely slowly. It should be noted as a matter of interest that this occurred after the PC had been running a disk-intensive operation for several days in TA of around 32°C, as my home office is upstairs and neither well insulated nor particularly well-served by AC ducting. I rebooted the PC and it hung on the spinning Windows dots. A quick check in the BIOS (all BIOSes should have a SMART check!) showed that the drive was reporting SMART failures. Not surprising for a junkbox drive.
Let’s talk about that, by the way. This is the drive:
I label all my drives when I put them into service. This label indicates that the drive in question was bought in the Dark Times when I still lived in New York, and placed in my NAS box of the time. My policy is to cycle out drives in that box at the 12-month mark (though sometimes I stretch that out by a few months if I’m lazy or underfunded). Minimally, therefore, this drive had 12 months of hard use spun up continuously. After that it was probably only used as a temporary holding volume for moving files around – powered up a few days a month, if that. Still – eightish years of service is enough for it to have earned its pension, so I can’t complain.
Note that I labeled it “REC” so I knew it was recertified. I was initially going to complain that it was a recertified drive (look in detail at the main drive label right above “SATA / 32MB Cache” in the upper right corner) but apparently I was aware of this when I put it into service. I have no idea what I was thinking at the time; perhaps this drive was super cheap and being used to store the least important dross on the NAS. Or maybe I was just in some kind of fugue state.
Repair or replace? Well, that calculus was pretty simple. A drive would cost me more or less $100, and I figured I could probably buy a slightly better machine for that. I sniffed around a bit and found a much friskier refurb HP ProDesk 600 G1 SFF (8GB RAM/500GB HDD/DVDRW/i5-4570/4 USB 2/4 USB 3 and licensed Win10 Pro 64bit) at TigerDirect for $200. As it happened, I had some difficulty getting back into my TigerDirect account – and I’m glad I did, because while I was trying to figure that out, I found the exact same machine on eBay for $106 with tax, free shipping. Next day it was in my hands. Luckily I hadn’t thrown away the packaging for the GPU I bought for the Frankenbox – I needed the low profile backplates. I actually didn’t bother to install the analog VGA connector, but I saved it in case I change my mind. I also splurged and bought a set of AmazonBasics speakers (better matched to my limited desk space than the big speaker I was using previously), $40 for another 8GB RAM, and a $13 USB NTSC capture device so I can connect my vintage computers up. Cinebench results are much better on CPU, as you’d imagine, and a whisker better on OpenGL FPS – 32.10 fps/535cb (compare 29.49fps/180cb on the Frankenbox, to save you clicking back to the older post). That’s the difference between a 2008 CPU and a 2013 CPU for you:
While I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything important on the old drive except maybe a few savegames that don’t sync with Steam’s cloud service, I had to make sure of that. The drive was in a bad way, and deteriorating – I actually did manage to get it to boot one more time, but it took literally an entire day (9 hours from power-up to a desktop), and simply opening an Explorer window would take upwards of 20 minutes. I couldn’t get it to mount at all using a USB-to-SATA adapter, so I went the brute force method and connected it to the internal SATA bus on the new machine. By the time I got to this point, the drive would only spin up if it was upside down with a weight resting on the contacts that run to the spindle motor. This was enough, however, to copy off a couple of downloaded files that would be irksome to find again. The drive doesn’t function well enough to be erased, so I’m going to have to physically destroy it to decommission it fully.
For now this machine is a very satisfying upgrade – it’ll also let me run my various microcontroller dev environments nicely – but I’m likely to do a couple more things to it. Internally it has two 3.5″ HDD bays, one 2.5″ HDD/SSD bay, and a laptop optical bay (only two SATA power connectors, though). I ordered the special mounting screws required to make use of those open bays, and what I think I’ll likely do is install a small 2.5″ SSD as the boot device and put two 12TB spinners in the 3.5″ slots so I can remove a couple of the external USB drives I have attached. If I get really crazy I might buy a nicer GPU, since this machine could actually make some use of it – power supply will be a limitation though.