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Brad Fitzpatrick

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Slow computer [Jun. 28th, 2005|09:12 pm]
Brad Fitzpatrick

I occasionally notice that my computer is old:
papag:~ $ cat /proc/cpuinfo 
processor       : 0
vendor_id       : GenuineIntel
cpu family      : 6
model           : 8
model name      : Pentium III (Coppermine)
stepping        : 6
cpu MHz         : 798.287
cache size      : 256 KB

And only 750 MB of memory.

But you can't beat absolutely silent, ya know? Once you go silent, no computer works for me anymore.

I really need to use one of the other (much faster, much louder) machines in my house, since I've given up on "silent computing" systems which never are.

I think the answer is:
-- USB keyboard and mouse (done)
-- USB extender over Cat5
-- DVI over fiber or something
-- audio.... maybe my USB audio DA converter would work? not sure the bandwidth on those USB over Cat5 things, but should work considering how piss-slow regular USB is.

[User Picture]From: xaosenkosmos
2005-06-29 04:32 am (UTC)
If you're only interested in audio iles, a creatively-named Linux "Apple Airport Express Client Player" exists. I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, as i don't have an Airport Express. It looks like it only needs minor kludging to stream audio to the Airport Express, though. It'd be fun evening hacking for a week or two.

And it wouldn't require running non-HID USB over Cat-5. If you do go that route, i'd suggest putting an unpowered USB/1.x hub between the machine and the Cat-5, to force ghetto-level negotiation up front.
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[User Picture]From: matthew
2005-06-29 04:48 am (UTC)
do you care about being able to run any OS, or would you just be running X? Do you need to be able to display full motion video?
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[User Picture]From: brad
2005-06-29 04:55 am (UTC)
X. But I don't want to deal with the remote X bullshit and latency.

I've done XDMCP from a fast machine to my cheap-o machine as a client, but it wasn't as fast as I'd have hoped.
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[User Picture]From: matthew
2005-06-29 05:20 am (UTC)
did you ever try using VNC? It's wicked fast over 100mbit. The downside is that the X server for VNC lacks some of the X extensions (last I looked) so things like font smoothing didn't work so well.

I know and have worked with the persons responsible for this: http://www.ndiyo.org/. It's pretty slick actually, and is cross platform. Maybe I can convince them that you're a good beta candidate ;)
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[User Picture]From: dreamaster
2005-06-29 05:00 am (UTC)
I feel horrible for this as this is one of my new quad's:

[root@wild1 root]# cat /proc/cpuinfo
processor : 0
vendor_id : GenuineIntel
cpu family : 15
model : 4
model name : Intel(R) Xeon(TM) MP CPU 3.33GHz
stepping : 1
cpu MHz : 3325.196
cache size : 1024 KB
fdiv_bug : no
hlt_bug : no
f00f_bug : no
coma_bug : no
fpu : yes
fpu_exception : yes
cpuid level : 5
wp : yes
flags : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush dts acpi mmx fxsr sse sse2 ss ht tm lm
bogomips : 6632.24

Sadly, the processor cache isn't displayed accurately. There is 8MB's of cache on each processor.

Wanna trade? :)
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[User Picture]From: brad
2005-06-29 05:02 am (UTC)
Wanna trade? :)

4 CPU fans? No way.
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[User Picture]From: dreamaster
2005-06-29 05:07 am (UTC)
Yup! It's a Dell PowerEdge 6850. You'll like it.
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[User Picture]From: edm
2005-06-29 05:11 am (UTC)

Possible audio solutions:

  • use digital audio and run it over cat-5 (at a guess you should be okay for say 5-10 metres); you'll need some cat-5 <-> coax adapters
  • use digital audio and run it over fibre (again I'd guess 5-20 metres)
  • have something encode the audio (at least to wave files) and stream it across the net/wireless to a slim devices player; 48kbps stereo shouldn't have much impact on 'net usage, but you may lose a little quality reencoding the audio
  • run some sort of dummy audio driver that just pumps wave format audio out for something like the slim devices software to pick up (ie, no reencoding)
  • run line-level audio through cat-5 pairs into a receiver (should be okay for a short distance, although beware of running it near "noisy" lines, as you won't have much noise margin)
  • run speaker level audio through cat-5 pairs (should be okay providing the volume isn't pushed too high, but beware there's not much headroom)

That said, it's possible to have a truely silent computer. But not a fast, truely silent computer. The only way to get truely silent is slow enough that none of the CPU, video card, motherboard chipset, or powersupply need fans. And no local disk. I had a 200MHz machine that I used as a silent computer that was like that -- so quiet the loudest thing in the room was the CRT quietly humming away to itself.

FWIW, laptops with speedstep and auto-parking hard drives can get pretty close to quiet, providing the workload is usually relatively low so that the CPU/chipset fans stop. And other than video playback there's not much I need to do locally that needs a lot of CPU power -- virtually all my work can be/is done in ssh sessions anyway.


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[User Picture]From: brad
2005-06-29 05:16 am (UTC)
Squeezebox! I can't believe I didn't think of that. I don't need blips and beeps anyway... just mp3s.

Oh, maybe audio for video files. But still, solvable.
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[User Picture]From: mcfnord
2005-06-29 05:38 am (UTC)
My Compaq is not silent, but it is the quietest computer I've had. So much so that I named it Whisper.
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[User Picture]From: jaybonci
2005-06-29 05:40 am (UTC)

My same problem.

I'm using a 700 mzh, and it's basically quiet enough for me. What I'd absolutely love is a good remote computing solution, even if I had to have a box or to run wires. My problem is both the potential noise of a new computer, and the heat output of the several machines under my desk. If I could run, say, 20-50 ft of some kind of wire to some kind of KVM type setup, I'd be the happiest man on the planet.

I could stick my machines in the basement and have a local CD-Rom drive if I need to put media in something (incredibly rare).

So basically, I'd love to hear with what you come up with for your solution. I'm still looking (albeit lazily) myself.


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[User Picture]From: edm
2005-06-29 08:58 am (UTC)

Re: My same problem.

For example, Raritan Paragon KVM switches:


(and others on that site). They'll easily reach 50 feet through Cat-5, although I'm not sure what video bandwidth they claim (eg, very high resolution, high refresh video might be asking a bit much). AFAIK they redigitise the video, and send it, so the bandwidth is definitely better than running 50 feet of KVM cables. (It's analogue video though, not DVI, to the best of my knowledge. DVI, sent digitally, would seem more likely to handle high resolution without bluring.)

They definitely work okay for text consoles, and 800x600. One of my clients has one, and is very pleased with it. (There's even a "IP access" module for it which "works" but I definitely wouldn't recommend the IP access for daily use -- it's extrememly handy for emergency access when you're not in the right city though...)

FWIW, at 20 feet, just run good quality KVM cables to a good quality electronic KVM switch. (I've tended to use NovaView, but there are plenty of others; you want one which allows keyboard switching 'cause walking down to press buttons on the KVM switch gets old quickly.) At 20-30 feet, with well shielded cable, text consoles and 800x600 are very usable; I've not had reason to try to push it any further (I just use serial console for most of my servers anyway -- even the PCs). At a guess 1024x768@60Hz would be okay. The good quality KVM switches claim more, but you run into cable bandwidth issues on longer cables.

Depending on your CD-ROM requirements you may well find mounting it over the network as a file share is sufficient. Although in practice I've found in > 3 years of mainly using a single-spindle laptop (ie, hard drive only) that I so rarely need to access CD media that I can stand to walk to the machine room to do it. ("The Internet provides" :-) )

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[User Picture]From: loganb
2005-06-29 08:18 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: mart
2005-06-29 08:20 am (UTC)

You would really hate being in my house. In my bedroom I have two PC's, including one whose PSU fan is starting to go and so occasionally makes loud grinding noises. Under the stairs are two computers which aren't that noisy but still contribute a little to background hum alongside the fridge and so forth. In the living room the XBox makes its own little hard disk hum and click noises. I don't really notice it unless I start thinking about it, though. The noise is “just there”, even when I'm sleeping. I guess if I had used a silent PC for a while I would notice more, but given that I've been using noisy computers everywhere all my life it doesn't present a great problem for me.

I did think of running long wires to somewhere else in the house before, but found that you can't really extend PS/2 and VGA very much. I've already got rid of VGA mostly (I use the DVI and VGA inputs on my fancy new monitor as a ghetto video switcher) but I still use a really heavy, old keyboard with an AT type plug on it and don't really want to add yet another adapter to it to make it plug in to USB, assuming that would even work at all.

I think I'd probably be tempted to go for a hybrid approach: run X on the silent machine, and run stuff like video playback and other things which hammer the X server locally. Run everything else remotely and connect it to the local X server. I suppose it depends on what's causing your perception of slowness: on my old PC (a Pentium 2) it was mostly computational slowness that got me, so I'd just run any heavy computational stuff on my server under the stairs which is of similar spec to your silent PC there. Of course, if it's primarily UI slowness that's getting to you, running X apps remotely probably isn't going to help. Mixing and matching like that will probably get to be a pain in the ass anyway: how do you arrange for your app launchers to run some things on a remote host and others locally? Maybe that's something XDMCP can help with; I've never really played with it.

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[User Picture]From: edm
2005-06-29 09:13 am (UTC)
AFAIK the DIN-5 <-> Mini-Din-6 (PC to PS/2 keyboard) adapters are just physical connector adapters, and the keyboards (at least from the AT/286 ones onward) are electrically and logically compatible. The PS/2 <-> USB keyboard adapters are a USB HID device on one side, and a PS/2 keyboard on the other side, and I believe convert the PS/2 serial events (keyboards are slow, sync, serial) into USB HID events on the USB bus (and presumably vice versa).

So to the best of my knowledge the PC keyboard -> adapter -> PS/2 -> adapter -> USB chain should work just fine. One day I'll have to find out; I've been using a AT keyboard since I owned a 286, and it's getting moderately common to find "legacy free" PCs these days with no PC or PS/2 keyboard ports.

For the "hybrid" approach you mention (some apps remote, some local) you might want to look at LTSP (http://www.ltsp.org/) -- I believe they've got some wrappers for the "run displayed remotely" and "run remotely displayed on that console" situations. (They also found that video playback, etc, i best done locally on the relevant machine.)

Finally a dedicated network link between the compute server and the (X) display server definitely helps with latency issues on running X applications remotely from the display. Especially -- these days -- if it were a gigabit connection. But it's still be noticable with all the badly written, latency sensitive applications. (That said, Firefox is much better run remotely than, eg, Netscape 4, ever was.)

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[User Picture]From: edm
2005-07-31 03:53 am (UTC)

KVM Extender

I know this post is old, and maybe you've already found a solution but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

This comment on Slashdot:


talks about relocating a (fast) computer remotely using a long distance KVM system from these people:


plus a long distance sound transmitter from Terk.

Apparently it works pretty well for them at 1280x1024 video and with just minor noise introduced into the sound (low level hiss).

If you don't absolutely need DVI something like that might be worth considering.

And if you do find a good solution tell us about it; I'm sure there's a bunch of people reading your journal who would be interested.

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