Tag: Hardware

If you have multiple computers in the house, you can probably benefit from a single system with centralized storage. A fileserver, as it is usually known, is a computer with multiple hard drives that often sits unattended somewhere and simply gives file access to other computers. This can be an older model, with a minimal amount of computing power, or a fairly up to date system with dual cores and lots of memory.

I decided to build myself one of these systems, so what I hope to do here is explain what I did to get up and running, and hopefully help you solve some of the same problems I encountered on the way.

The Hardware

Since this computer will mostly work as a file server, a high end system is not really necessary. In fact, an old computer sitting in your basement with Windows 98 on it will probably do just fine.

There are things to remember, however, that might swing you in favour of building a new system.

  • Processing power for other jobs
  • Expandability
  • Network connectivity
  • Cooling/Noise

If you want to be able to do other tasks with the system outside of serving files, you might want some more power. For instance, I’ve set up my box to act as a video conversion system, which frees my MacBook from churning through videos all night.

Disk drives will always be improving, so don’t limit yourself to a case with only 1 or 2 3.5″ drive bays. Look for something with at least 3 or maybe 4. For example, my original plan was to use the shell of a Dell computer, so that I wouldn’t need a new case, but I quickly learned there was very little internal storage, which would have crippled the setup right out of the box.

You’ll definitely not want to go wireless with a server like this. Wired ethernet is the only way to go, and Gigabit is certainly preferable. This of course means you’ll either have to put the computer near your main network station, or run a cable to another part of the house.

Finally, you must take into account the cooling/noise requirements for a system like this. It will be on 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, unless manually shut down, so you won’t want a case that makes living next to it unbearable. Look for a case with 120mm case fans, and use a high quality CPU heat sink that dissipates heat with a large fan that moves air while turning slowly.

The Software

The second half of the equation is the software to run the hardware, and do what you want it to do. I suggest using a Linux variant: it is free, very stable, and has a very enthusiastic support community. From there, depending on your level of knowledge, you need to choose a GUI version, or command line version. The benefit of a GUI is that configuration and usage is significantly easier, but it also means you more or less need to physically be at the computer to make changes. A command line version, however, allows complete control over all aspects of the system, but can be done remotely via SSH (the terminal).

I chose to use the command line server version of Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope, because it had come out just days before I set up my system. It is available at Ubuntu.com in 64 or 32 bit versions. The command line ensures that all processing power available to the computer is used for productive computing instead of running the interface. With the OS in place, you must plan what software you’ll run to do the serving.

Ubuntu Server contains numerous packages that can be configured out of the box to create a working server. This is a list of packages I installed immediately after setting up the computer (* denotes a package installed after the build):

  • SSH
  • LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP web server)
  • SAMBA (Windows file sharing)
  • Mediatomb* (UPnP media sharing)
  • Netatalk* (Apple file sharing)
  • Webmin* (Web interface for administering computer)
  • ProFTPD* (FTP server)

These servers provide services to the entire network, which means I need to do little or no interaction with the server once they’re running.

A Ubuntu file server can provide centralized storage for a large network and provide many other services to all the computers connected. It can store and stream media, backup important files and even process files, all while sitting unattended under a desk or in a closet.

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I really like finding little applications that do a single specialized task really well. In this case, it is a Dashboard widget called Deep Sleep that puts your computer into hibernation. I discovered it on MacOSXHints and have been using it regularly for a few weeks.

Mac laptops use three sleep mechanisms: Safe sleep, deep sleep and quick sleep. The primary difference between them is how the computer reacts when all power is removed. Safe sleep is the default behaviour and will resume normally even after the power source is completely disconnected (that means you can change batteries without fully shutting the computer down). Deep sleep also wakes normally (albeit more slowly) and draws no power at all. Quick sleep will not remember any data when started after a power loss.

The nice part about this widget is that it enables you to use the deep sleep method once, then have it revert back to the standard form afterwards. It is especially convenient for when you know the computer won’t be needed for a few hours, but you’ll need the full battery afterwards. This ability is also useful for when the battery has aged and no longer holds the original power (like mine).

So if you need to put your computer away for a while, but still want power when you wake it again, give Deep Sleep a try.

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It’s not often that an Apple product gets me well and truly frustrated. Generally I can pinpoint a repetitive problem and find other people with similar issues, and often find a solution.

But the current problem I’m having with Keynote is completely unacceptable and I have absolutely no idea why it’s occurring.

Let me set the scene. You’re working on a large multimedia presentation that uses video backgrounds, transitions, pictures and transitions. In a burst of creative genius, you furiously hammer out a dozen slides and sit back to admire your handiwork. In your eagerness, you press the Play button before saving to see the result of your work, and suddenly the screen goes black and you hear the tell-tale sound of the optical drive and the sickening startup chime (it’s sickening because you realize all your hard work could possibly be toast).

In my case, I was working on a presentation with more than 250 slides, with videos, photos and transitions — the works. Even though I had saved a few minutes earlier, I still lost work. The strange part is that there seems to be no real connection to when the button works and when it restarts. My theory is that somehow it determines the longest time between saves, then breaks — just to spite you. The other unusual thing is that the MacBook starts up without any of the information requests like when it shuts down improperly. I can’t figure it out.

Have you ever seen anything like this before?

[tags]Keynote, troubleshooting, Mac OS X, iWork, iLife[/tags]

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This was a busy week for technology enthusiasts. With CES going in Las Vegas and Macworld Expo going in San Fransisco, there’s a lot of new ways to spend cash.

While my CES coverage has consisted mainly of reading Engadget, I’ve been following Macworld a little closer. You may remember that earlier I mentioned that this is Apple’s last participation in the Expo and that Phil Schiller gave the Keynote presentation instead of Steve Jobs (check out this article for more on his health).

Keynote results

I’ve gotta say: I wasn’t too blown away by Apple’s keynote announcements. Sure there was a new iLife and iWork, but there was nothing quite like the iPhone, Mac mini and PowerBooks (going back a few years). I was hoping for something that I would really consider saving up for.

Instead, this is what we got.

The 17″ MacBook Pro now joins the rest of the MacBook and MacBook Pro line with a unibody aluminum enclosure, glass trackpad and LED backlit screen. It separates itself from the other models by including a new 8 hour battery, which I can only hope will make its way to the other models soon. Interestingly, this model has an optional $50 anti-glare cover, which should satisfy the many users who complained about the glossy screen on the other models. I don’t think I would ever consider purchasing a machine like this. Not just for the price tag (starting at $2,999 CAN) but also because I could get an even large screen, using a smaller MacBook for less money. Maybe a 15″ MacBook Pro, but even that would require careful consideration.

The previously mentioned iLife and iWork updates include some interesting new features that I would like to see in person. As soon as I saw iMovie ’08 I refused to upgrade, so this package needs to have more benefits for me to even consider it.

Perhaps the biggest news from the keynote is that the iTunes store will be transitioning to completely DRM free tracks. Music will now be offered in a 3 tier system: $0.69, $0.99 and $1.29 per track. That should make a lot of people happy.

Overall, I think both trade shows could be considered successes, and even with Apple’s decision to pull out of next year’s expo, I still want to go.

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Just like the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, a kernel panic can strike fear into the heart of even a seasoned computer user. This black and grey screen suggesting that you restart your computer in multiple languages signals that the computer has done something that just does not compute.

Rather than pass it off as a single event and move on, it is in your best interest to determine what is causing the problem and banish it to the land of /dev/null (that’s Nerdspeak for garbage can).

Here are some suggestions for ridding your computer of this evil.

Check hardware

According to Apple, computer memory is a common cause of kernel panics, so it is suggested that you test your computer. A free utility to do this is Rember. It tests the RAM and can often find errors. If you are using third-party memory, double check the specification as incompatible RAM can cause unusual behaviour.

Can you recreate the error?

The whole idea from this post came from the fact that my computer gave me a number of kernel panics whenever I unplugged my USB hub that had an external drive on it. I still have yet to pinpoint the exact problem, but knowing approximately what could be causing the problem can go a long way to finding a solution. Once you have the hardware picture, you can search through Google to find other users who may have the same problem, and possibly offer a solution.

Any new software?

If the kernel panic comes shortly after a new piece of software was installed, it is quite possible that is the problem. Of particular concern is programs that install themselves in the startup items folder for launch at login. The startup items folder is located at Startup drive / Library / StartupItems and needs to contain ArcanaStartupSound as this is the computer boot sound. Anything else that looks unfamiliar can be moved outside the folder. Restart the computer, and see if the problem occurs again.

No one likes it when their equipment malfunctions, but like many other computer-related problems, a little thinking and troubleshooting can restore your computer to its former condition.

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