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New old rack mountable PC for music production

30-04-2019

I have finally decided on buying a new pc. It's not that my old one has become too slow, it's just that I have found another use for it. And after all I do work with computers. But first of all let's say that this transaction happened a year ago. I think that the computer I have bought, was available a year ago. And this change of time makes this story more, I don't know, evenly in progression.

By this buy I have the following three desktops produced the noted year (with our time reverse applied):

  1. (1998) A Pentium II MMX 266 MHZ (512 KB cache) with 64 mb ram and an Riva TNT 16mb ram graphics card.
  2. (2008) A Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 3.0 GHZ (12 mb cache) with 8 gb DDR2 ram and 1GB nVidia Geforce GTX 550 TI graphics.
  3. (2018) A AMD Ryzen 5 2600 3.4 GHZ (16mb cache) with 16GB DDR4 ram and 2GB Radeon 7850HD Graphics.

As you can see there are exactly 10 years between the production of the computers. I think I spend the same amount of money on computer #2 as on #3. Computer #1 might be in the same price range, for those who speak danish, it can be found on the original shop here (web archive).

So how much has happened? From #1 to #2 the difference is enormous. Depending on the applications run on the computer the two can probably be compared directly. The applications matter since #1 is single core where #2 has four, and in order to fully take advantage of #2 multi threading and so on has be taken into account. But that aside: 3 ⋅ 4 ⋅ 1000 = 12000. And 12000 / 266 ≈ 45. That is circa 45 times faster CPU. 8192 / 62 = 128, that is 128 times more RAM. It even has 24 times more cache. Even 32bit applications (that can't take advantage of multi core) are found by the dozen that can't in anyway run on #1 but runs smoothly on #2.

From #2 to #3 is not that impressive. #3 can run 6 ⋅ 3.9 GHZ in turbo mode. I'm not sure this can be done continuously. Maybe only in bursts. For the sake of argument let's assume the first. Now 6 ⋅ 3.9 = 23.6 which is approximately twice the power of #2. It has exactly twice the amount of RAM. The RAM runs at twice the bus frequency. And the graphics is probably twice as fast. #3 has 4/3 times more cache. Now to be honest I mostly program on my computer. I have begun recording music again (more on that later). I edit pictures (some of this can be stressful for the computer). And I watch movies. For programming tasks #2 more than suffices. Running Linux mint on that machine was quite snappy after I installed a SSD. Picture editing was tolerable. And music recording worked fine, not much delay.

In order to make this more interesting I have found this Fujitsu FM R 70 from 1988. It has the following specs

  • Intel 80386DX clocked at 16 MHz. The cache is not on chip as far as I can tell. That is no cache worth mentioning (cache memory has to be as close to the CPU as possible, on modern processors it's placed on chip).
  • 584 KB RAM. I'm not sure but it seems like it has been extended with 2 MB. Let's say so.

Now in comparison with #1: #1 has roughly 32 times the amount of RAM. And roughly 16 times higher processor frequency. We can't compare cache though cache is quite important.

So why have I made this buy? I have rented a container in which I can practice drums (in order to not stress my poor neighbors). Half a year ago I bought a Behringer ADA8200 Ultragain in order to record drums. My laptop does not seem powerful enough to record more than two tracks simultaneously. But now pc #2 has been put into a rack mountable pc case and has been placed in the container. And voila. I can easily record 8 tracks at a time with not notable delay. Wonderful!

So let's have a look at that rack thing. The case

Newly acquired 19" rack case

The case is heavy. I think this is on purpose, it seems very robust. The inside is rustic compared to my Fractal case.

Inside of the case

One notable thing is that bridge screwed on above the mother board. This is used to stabilize cards. Though my graphics card did not have any where to mount the stabilizer, it can be used to secure tower coolers. More on that later.

Computer installed

The installation went quite smoothly. Albeit the rear end of the case can only be installed with two 80mm coolers. Not the standard 120mm. In advance I bought two such coolers. But they are installed with those old annoying molex connectors I had to tape together in order for them not to come apart.

I had to modify the bridge in order to fit the CPU cooler into it. The modification is not one of the pretty ones (done mostly with a hammer). But it works.

Modified bridge

As can be seen on the picture the CPU cooler is fastened with two strips. This seems valid. I have added a new PSU, the old one had become very unstable. This case is not a "cable management kind of case". All cables have been fastened with strips in order for them not to enter a fan if things get shaky.

Computer installed in rack

The rack case (of flight case) is one I have found in my parents attic. It misses the top, a spare can't be bought so I have to make one myself. Besides that the case is quite solid. I'm satisfied, and now I can record drums till I can drum no more.

#1 and #3 side by side

Examples of audio recordings are soon to come!

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