Last month I finally got around to a major rebuild of my computer, something I’d been meaning to do since May when I traced some display problems to the motherboard*. I finally bit the bullet when I started seeing signs of disk errors, and dragged the machine into the present day. (64-bit, dual-core, 2 GB RAM, SATA drive, faster everything.)

Then I discovered that some of the display problems actually were the fault of the monitor.

So I went out and bought a new monitor while Fedora was installing, and I took the opportunity to go widescreen.

My criteria were simple: The resolution and physical size both had to be as big or bigger than the old one (17″, 1280×1024), and it had to be under $300. That meant at minimum a 22″ display at 1680×1050, and I found a Hannspree 229HBP for about $190.

There was a Dell right next to it, same size & resolution and comparable specs, and the Best Buy employee had been talking both of them up. The Dell was on sale for $290. I asked what the difference was. He thought about it for a few seconds. “Well, this one [the Hannspree] does run a little bit hotter. But mostly it’s just the name.” Thank you, Best Buy employee whose name I’ve forgotten, for helping me save $100.

The biggest difference, aside from actually having room to show both the toolbox and document windows on GIMP, is that I don’t maximize windows anymore. Not that I maximized apps that often before, not counting the stuck-in-low-res period. I’ll occasionally run a video or slideshow fullscreen, but the only program I regularly maximize is my email client, and that’s because I can put it in three-column mode (Folder tree on the left, mailbox listing in the middle, message content on the right).

Something to watch out for: At first I left the monitor off-center, because there wasn’t enough room on my desk for it. I figured as long as I worked mostly on the right part of the screen I’d be fine. But I ended up having neck problems shortly afterward, and Katie suggested I check the placement of the monitor. I shifted things around so I could center it, then set it on top of an Amazon box to raise it a couple of inches, and the sore neck cleared up.

I’ve only run into two problems (not counting the placement): There’s one dead pixel, but it’s off in a corner so that it’s not really an issue. I almost didn’t notice it at first when I was still setting things up, because the default GNOME layout has a Mac-style ever-present menu bar, and it falls right on the edge. Usually it ends up either on the edge of a window border or lost in the wallpaper noise.

The other problem: the built-in speakers pretty much suck, but I had external speakers already, so again: no big deal.

* It stopped displaying any resolution past 1024×768. I could tell it wasn’t the monitor because it was perfectly happy to show another computer at 1280×1024. And not the drivers or OS because I had the same problem booting from a LiveCD. And not the video card because plugging in another one didn’t solve it. This was particularly frustrating since it was an LCD monitor, so running at less than native resolution made everything blurry. Still, I put off replacing the mobo for months since it’s such a pain to do.

TigerDirect keeps sending me ads for widescreen LCD monitors. I’d love to pick up a 22″ widescreen (right now I’ve got a 17″ LCD that runs 1280×1024), but my computer is in much more need of a mobo+processor upgrade. Especially since something on the system — and not the video card or the monitor — went bad recently and is preventing it from running at any resolution higher than 1024×768, leaving me stuck with a blurry screen on the monitor I’ve got. So I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of a new monitor anyway.

I’m putting that off mainly because I need to do make the time to research what I’m going to get. I’ve narrowed it down to a dual-core AMD, but then I have to balance which processor, motherboard, and memory to get.

Also, at this point, I may as well go 64-bit, which is going to mean reinstalling Fedora. Though in theory I should be able to run the 32-bit OS to start with, which means I could do the hardware upgrade one weekend, and the OS reinstall the next.

The other tech upgrade I’m desperate to get is a new phone. While my ideal phone doesn’t quite exist yet, I’d really like something with better mobile internet access than my RAZR V3T — particularly with Comic-Con coming up next month. They’re usually good at keeping you informed of scheduling changes (unlike Wizard World), but now that I’ve got SpeedForce.org, I’d like to be able to do at least minimal blogging from the convention floor rather than waiting until I get back to the hotel. Posting by email doesn’t cut it, and even with the WPhone Plugin providing a stripped-down admin interface, half the time the built-in browser tells me it can’t display the page. I may bite the bullet and pay T-Mobile the extra $20/month for a data plan so that I can run Opera Mini.

On the plus side, I’ve at least found a way to post photos directly using Flickr.

If you want to build a Linux or FreeBSD system around a RAID array, don’t use the Promise SuperTrak SX6000 controller. At least not for now.

The card used to work under Linux using the standard I2O drivers (i2o_block, etc.), but sometime last year Promise changed the firmware so that it no longer uses I2O. Now you’re stuck with Promise’s own driver, so if you want to use an old enough distribution* (say, Red Hat 7.3) that you can find a driver disk, or make your own driver disk, go ahead…but don’t expect to be able to upgrade it unless you can create a driver disk for the newer distro. This assumes the source code for the driver will work with recent 2.4 kernels—it won’t compile with 2.6. There has been talk of merging the pti_st driver into the kernel (fortunately it’s GPLed), but I can’t find anything more recent than August. Someday it might work again, but not today.

Now, FreeBSD is another matter. It has built-in drivers (pst), the installer will detect it automatically, and even let you install your entire system to it—without warning you that FreeBSD can’t boot from the SX6000. You can boot from another drive and interact with it once the system’s running, but you can’t put your entire system on the RAID array. (This information is not in the installer, not in the hardware notes, not in the driver man page. I only found the one 1Ā½-year-old mailing list post by the driver’s author, and a bunch of “I don’t think it works” comments in other lists and forums.)

I hope this post will save someone a lot of frustration.

*Of the distributions for which Promise has provided driver disks, only one—SuSE 9.0—hasn’t already been retired.

I should’ve written this up when we bought it, but there are two main reasons I went with the Netgear WGT624 router over another brand with similar features.

First: familiarity. Since I hadn’t researched specific models, I wanted a brand I knew or had used before. This meant Netgear, Linksys, or Belkin.

Belkin was out of the question. In fact, I was muttering about how I’d never buy a Belkin router, when I was approached by a Belkin representative who proceeded to explain about how much better their product was than any of the others. The problem is that Belkin lost my trust last year when they set their routers to redirect web requests to their own advertisement page. (Basically one every eight hours until you bought the filtering service or clicked on an opt-out link on that web page). Aside from the annoyance factor, there’s a lot of web traffic that isn’t actually trying to load a web page. It could be your antivirus program trying to download new definitions, or your news reader updating an RSS or Atom feed. It could be Windows Update. Sure, they eventually disabled the “feature”, but come on!

So at that point it basically a toss-up between Netgear and Linksys. The Netgear packaging was more focused on the networking capabilities, and the Linksys packaging was more focused on the parental controls, so I went with the Netgear.