The little computer that could

Cassandra’s computer has been starting to show its age.  It is about 6+ years old.  It has started locking up recently, so time to get something new. 

Since there was no money budgeted for this project, it would have to be done fairly cheap.  I set the original target at $300.  We already have a working monitor, so we didn’t need to buy that.  I also had confidence that the current hard drive (IDE Western Digital 160GB) wasn’t the cause of the system issues, so I could probably save some money and use that.

Cassandra uses the computer for surfing the web, email, and chat, and we have a few educational games for the kids on the system.  The system isn’t taxed very much with her normal usage.  I tried to load Vista on her old machine and it would run, but not very well.  I didn’t expect it to with it being such an old system.

After a lot of research, I came across a few articles about the Intel atom processor.  This dinky little chip is

VERY small as you can see with the picture at left (I believe this is the 230 single core chip). 

I purchased the Intel 945GC Mini ITX motherboard for about $80.  The motherboard comes with the CPU already attached.  It is using the Intel 330 atom processor which is a dual core 1.6GHz processor with hyper threading and is 64bit capable.  I also purchased a single stick of 667Mhz  DDR2 2GB Kingston memory for $20.  I had a couple of old ATX cases around the house, but this motherboard uses the ITX form factor cases.  I purchased the Rosewill, RS-MI-01 BK for $55.  The case comes with a 250 Watt power supply which is more than adequate for this size of a system.  I also already had a DVD ROM from the old system to use with the system, so I didn’t need one even though I could have just used my system’s USB DVD to build up the system and then removed it. 

It took me about 30 minutes to put the motherboard/case/hard drive combo together.  For testing, I first loaded Ubuntu 8.10 64bit.  The system was very responsive with full Compiz desktop effects.  Since I had a copy of Vista 64bit to use, I installed that next.  Again the system is very responsive with full Aero glass effects.  Some forums state that Apple OSX runs on this setup as well.

All in all, I am absolutely amazed how much grunt this little computer has.  It is light on the power requirements using 55W when fully cranking along and 8W idle.  It does all of the things Cassandra needs and does them very well.  The case is small and unobtrusive too being only 8.7”x5.1”x13”.  It is fairly quiet as well.  This setup would make a great home server.

I am quite pleased with the results of this project.  I only spent about $170 total for the project and came in way under budget.  Cassandra is pleased with the system’s responsiveness even though after building it up and asking her what she thought, she said, “It is just a computer”.  Yin and Yang we truly are.

I named the computer “pea-brain”, but that isn’t quite fair as it actually is more of a “mighty mouse”.