New project rig

Posted by Chris Rosser on Thu 01 June 2017
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Last weekend, my wife's uncle gifted me with his old desktop computer. It's an original generation Core i5 with 4GB of RAM housed in a media PC-style case. For a long time it served as his main PC but that changed when he consolidated to using a Lenovo Thinkpad with a docking station.

I've been without any PC hardware for a while. I gave away my ThinkCentre and loaned out my Chromebook. This left something of a hole in my life because I enjoy tinkering with hardware, something I can't really do with my Macs. Also, there's several programs I like (such as Sigil and Inkscape) that work better on Linux than they do on macOS.

The box presents me with a couple of opportunities for some projects I've had in mind for a while (more on that in a later post). With my Mac mini relegated to server duties while my MacBook Air daily writing and development driver, I found I was missing a big honking workstation--something I can load up with a big GPU, multiple monitors, lots of memory, BluRay drive and lots and lots of hard drives.

So over the weekend, I pulled it apart, read up on the motherboard and picked through my old cache of parts. Having done that, I've planned several upgrades, but will spread them out as time and budget allows.

Guts of the new project rig
Guts of the new project rig

Firstly, I'm planning on replacing the media case with a mid-tower and install a more efficient power supply. I'll be looking for one that can house at least 6, 3.5 inch hard drives. These drives will be used as my main on-site backup system.

I'll also add an internal USB 3.0 PCIE card. That will give me back-panel USB 3 (and possibly USB C, depending if I can find one that supports Linux) and an internal header I can use for the case's ports or a 5.25 inch IO bay.

Lastly, I'm planning on adding a Nvidia GPU (again to ensure Linux compatibility). Currently the machine is using (first gen) Intel integrated HD graphics. I'm not planning on going all out here -- a mid-range card from a few years ago is more than adequate for my needs.

So what am I planning to do with this machine?

The short answer is media projects and gaming.

I've installed Ubuntu MATE 16.04 and Windows 10 (on separate drives) and will share the tasks between the two systems.

On the Ubuntu side, I'll be using Inkscape, GIMP and Sigil. Ubuntu will also manage the remaining 4 drives in a RAID5 configuration.

On Windows 10, I've installed a licensed copy of Adobe CS5.5 (design standard) and Office 365, both of which I've had for years but not had the chance to use since I reloaded my Mac mini (and didn't install Windows). Windows is where I'll do most of my late-night gaming -- mostly my back-catalogue of RPG titles from and my collection of RTS games.

Yes, I know I can do a lot of this on my MacBook Air, but I don't want to. I don't want to install Windows or Linux on it, I don't want to tax it excessively running 3D games and I don't want to clog up its 128GB SSD. My MacBook Air is where I deal with text, be it prose or code.

As for timeframes...honestly, I'm in no real rush. I made a breakthrough with my novel yesterday and it's given me the drive to finish the rewrite as my number one priority.

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