Do I have computer problems?

So I have a lot of computers. Some of them are new, most of them are old. Some don’t even look like computers. I’ve been recently thinking a lot about it and what to do with them, so I decided, hey, this is a good opportunity to write a blog. 

Oldest picture of a computer I could find, taken some time in 2005. I’m pretty sure that was AMD Athlon 64 3000+

It all started in 1994 I think. My first computer was a Pentium MMX, astonishing 122 MHz, mind blowing 1.2GB of disc space, and 16 MB of RAM. A multimedia machine running DOS and Windows 3.11. I wanted a computer long before then, ever since I saw my cousin playing on his Comodore 64, but my parents didn’t want it to rot my brain or something, so when they bought it, it was for my Dad to work on. I had very limited access to it, but when I did, it was a challenge to glue me away from it. 

Then a couple years later my dad got an even better computer, that one with brand new Windows 98 and I got the old one for myself. I think at that time it was clear for my parents computers will be something I’m just going to do for a living. Especially since I kept on breaking and fixing it over and over… 

Anyway, time passed and my trusty Pentium MMX became more and more outdated and finally in 2002-ish I managed to hoard enough money to buy a decent modern PC. Athlon 1300 Mhz, 128 MB of RAM and finally an accelerated graphics card (which promptly died and was replaced with an even better one). As part of the money gathering I agreed to sell that Pentium MMX to my mom’s company for accounting to run some very old but also very important DOS-based accounting software. 

You can see in here my main computer, laptop and the small AT case at the bottom is the “server”. Also on this photo: my ancient monochrome IBM display. I still have it, but I’m too afraid to turn it on, because it wasn’t used for the last 15 years.

And this background was important because years have passed and in 2004 I graduated high school and went to study computer science. I kept on upgrading or replacing my PC and eventually when I got to my engineering thesis I needed to run a database and Apache with PHP and some other stuff to run on a preferably Linux machine. It could be done on my PC with some tinkering, but it so happened that the company my mom worked for was finally replacing the old accounting software and my original PC was about to be decommissioned. So obviously I jumped in and grabbed it from the scrap pile. I replaced the hard drive, added a network card and slapped a fresh Linux with all the db and web tools needed. It was the first time when I had more than one computer working at the same time and I loved it. When I passed my engineering exam and got to work on my master’s thesis I also got a laptop from my mom (because it turns out it’s kinda useful to have a computer with me when I’m at the institute studying computer stuffs) and in the background I managed to earn (mostly by designing website and fixing computers, obviously) and put aside enough money to upgrade my PC again. This time instead of selling or giving away my old machine I scavenged another case and kept the previous internals as the new server thing. I still  regret getting rid of the old Pentium MMX machine entirely, I didn’t have any use for it at the time, but I believe I could have turned it into a nice retro gaming machine. 

At that point in time I had my main workstation/gaming rig which I called Kombain (from combine-harvester, a big do-it-all farming machine), my laptop and the server (nicknames Wihajster, a Polish/German word meaning something like “thingamajig”) which I exclusively used for my master’s thesis project. It was especially important during my last year at the Uni when I was living mostly out of my girlfriend’s place some 200km from home, so a server with access to all my stuff was a great thing to have. 

But times changed again, I graduated, got a job back in my home city, moved out from my family home and suddenly having a server built out of a gaming rig was a bit of a problem for my electricity bills. At the same time it was kinda useless since I no longer needed all the things I hosted on it. So eventually I turned it into a turn-on-only-when-needed NAS filled with leftover hard drives. So it just sat under my desk gathering dust and frying ancient HDDs, prompting improvised exercises in data recovery. 

The more things change the more they stay the same, I guess. Metadata failed me and I don’t know exactly when the first picture was taken, but my guess is 2009, the bottom one was taken in July 2021

Then suddenly it was 2019, Tumblr was purged of all unsavoury content convincing me to say “screw this, I’m going to host stuff on my own”. So I created this website hosted on a VPS. Also around this time I bought a small flat and moved all my toys here. Everything was great, but I still didn’t have my own server back at my new home. Permanently plugging in Wihajster seemed to be a waste of money, and I already had an always-on Linux machine I could connect to and do some quick bash magic in the form of the VPS… And yet, that was just not enough. So eventually I got myself a RaspberryPi and set it up as a ssh/db/web server. Over time I started glueing more stuff to it, like extra hard drives for network storage, apps running in docker and so on. It turns out that while you can have a RasbPi running anything, you can’t have it running everything at once.

If it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid.

Some time before I moved I also created a Fallout-like terminal for my LARP/Convention needs. It was based on a cobbled together PC and it worked really janky, but that was the point. Well… at one of the Oldtown LARPs it just decided to die, but since we still needed a Fallot terminal for LARPing, I started to look for alternatives for the future and found those tiny thin clients that are used in some offices. Basically a computer with no hard drive, just a flash memory to boot up and connect to Citrix or something. Perfect, I take three. So one of those is now the Fallout terminal, another is a cold spare and a third, with help of some creative cable management and liberal use of external drive bays has some 2 TB od disks dangling around and works as a NAS and DB storage for RasbPi, which can now happily just work as the computing unit.

Current state of the command center.

And the funny part is, I already have at least one good MB with everything on board to build a new, much more efficient server which would replace both the Thin client turned NAS and RasbPi frontend-media-server, bringing me back to having a full sized computer as a server, which I was trying to avoid a couple of years ago. Of course I’m not going to replace the current setup now, since, you know, the energy crisis and crazy world shit going on, but it is something I’m thinking way too much about lately. 

If anyone’s interested, my current computer count, some 28 years after getting my first PC is:

  • Kombajn (5th of his name) – the main gaming rig, due for an upgrade probably when new Ryzens are out and tested by the general public. 
  • Laptop, a newest replacement, probably the best computer I currently have. 
  • Another older laptop for more hazardous occasions and also LARPing things.
  • Raspberry PI pretending to be a media server
  • Dell thin client with a bunch of SDDs pretending to be a NAS
  • Dell thin client with a HDD salvaged from an old laptop running the LARP Fallout terminal
  • Another Dell thin client just in case
  • 2 ancient PCs I’m sometimes delude myself into trying to turn into one working retro gaming computer
  • 2 fully operational PCs I just don’t want to throw away
  • And a VPS somewhere in Amsterdam. 

 

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