[sclug] Tesco Linux PC (with content, without bickering!)

David Given dg at cowlark.com
Sat Mar 15 20:51:07 UTC 2008

Hash: SHA1

So it arrived, I've unpacked it, set it up, and am now writing this on
it. I took some pictures, but they all ended up out of focus. Bah.

Overall impression: it's rather decent generic PC box.

Immediate first impressions: this was *not* what I ordered. The machine
advertised on the website was a 2.66GHz machine with 256MB of RAM. This
is actually a 3.2GHz machine with 512MB of RAM. I don't know whether
this is simply because they ran out of the 2.66GHz version and had to
ship me something, or just an ordering error, but either way I'm not
complaining. That's the plus side. The minus side is that the case has a
'warranty void if broken' sticker to stop you opening it.

The package contains the system box; a *really* cheap-and-nasty eSys
branded membrane keyboard with is so horrible that even *I* am
embarrassed by it, and I'm using it; an eSys-branded optical mouse; a
couple of cheapo powered speakers that I haven't bothered to unpack yet;
a bundle of CDs and a poster that when unfolded turns out to be the
motherboard installation instructions in 12 languages. The CD set
contains an Ubuntu 6.06 offical CD, Nero OEM for Windows, motherboard
and graphics drivers for Windows, and two different copies of PowerDVD
for Windows. Spot the theme.

The box itself is an unoffensive mini tower with the usual selection of
ports. No floppy drive. It is, unfortunately, rather loud, although I am
comparing it with my old setup, which was an eee plugged in to a
monitor, keyboard and USB drive --- totally silent. Opening up the box
reveals a generic ATX motherboard with:

- - 4xSATA (one connected to a Hitachi Deskstar 7K160 80GB 7200rpm hard
- - 1xIDE (connected to a Samsung SH-D162D DVD-ROM, not a burner)
- - 2xPCI (empty)
- - 1xPCIe1 (empty)
- - 1xPCIe16 (empty)
- - 2xDIMM (one occupied with a Hynix 512MB PX2-5300 DIMM. Who are Hynix?)

There are some unconnected sockets, for things like more USB ports
(there are six external ports) and SPDIF; and there are some unpopulated
headers for things like IrDA --- don't know whether the circuitry is
there but you'll need a soldering iron to use them.

[Aside: the SH-D162D's main claim to fame is there's an alternative
firmware image available for it that will let it read, and copy, XBox
360 game disks. Hmm...]

The motherboard itself is made by BCS, a company so generic that they
don't seem to actually have any documentation on specific models on
their web site. It *seems* to support a 1066MHz FSB. The whole thing is
based around an Intel 82801G/945 integrated chipset. The 945 appears to
be an integrated 3D chipset and memory controller; the 82801G is generic
I/O, including SATA, PATA, USB, USB2, and the usual collection of other
stuff. ICH7 audio. There's also a Realtek gigabit ethernet controller
(with port on the back) that's not part of the integrated chipset.

Build quality is pretty decent, certainly far above the bad old days of
the early box shifters: no sharp edges inside, and there are a few
careful touches like loose knots in the various internal cables to take
up the slack.

On the hard disk is a preinstalled Ubuntu 6.06. It's... completely
unmodified; it looks like they just did a system load and left it,
without even bothering to brand it. I played with it a bit --- it worked
- --- and then nuked it in favour of Windows XP (yes, I am a Linux user,
but I keep my Linux setup on an external hard drive).

Once I'd installed Windows and set up all the drivers --- ICH7 audio is
a pain in the arse to set up --- I installed some games. _Sam And Max:
Chariots of the Dogs_ ran fine at 1280x720, but was subject to audio
stuttering and the occasional slow-down. Don't know what was going on
there. _Half Life_ ran at 1440x900 at full frame rate, with all the
settings turned up to max, but then I expected it would. I haven't
finished downloading _Half Life 2_ yet. My opinion of the 3D chipset?
Very low end by today's standards... blazing fast by the standards of
five years ago. I think it's a little crippled by using unified memory
but if you pick your games carefully it should work fine. I'll probably
end up buying a new PCIe video card, but mostly just so I can use DVI.

Back in Linux, it feels pretty fast and snappy, and gets 6389 bogomips
(the *definitive* useless benchmarking figure). All the hardware Just
Works in Ubuntu Feisty (which, I might add, it didn't under Windows ---
yes, Linux really does have better hardware support that Windows does
these days). The SATA disk gets 43MB/s, which is good. My Linux external
disk gets 26MB/s, which is also good, but only for a USB2 disk.

And 3D works. One of the great things about IGA is that it may not be
particularly fast compared to ATI and Nvidia, but it's actually
*supported* under Linux, and supported well. The only faffing around I
had to do to get accelerated OpenGL running was to *remove* some damage
that an old NVidia setup did. Cube runs at 1440x900 at about 35fps,
glxgears gets about 880fps, Beryl is silky smooth even with everything
turned on, and all the simple OpenGL apps I've managed to lay my hands
on run fine. Google Earth chugs, but that looks like lack of memory ---
I need to order a couple of gigabytes from Crucial.

Overall conclusion: definitely worth 140 quid, especially if you can get
someone to lose the repulsive keyboard first. It's nothing special, but
there's a lot of machine here for a very low price, and it's very
upgradeable. I'd say that as it stands it's ideal for most desktop use;
stick some more memory in and it'd be ideal for most server use; stick
some more memory and a high-end graphics card and I'm pretty sure this
would make a pretty decent gaming box.

lspci follows:

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation 82945G/GZ/P/PL Memory Controller
Hub (rev 02)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation 82945G/GZ
Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 02)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) High
Definition Audio Controller (rev 01)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) PCI Express
Port 1 (rev 01)
00:1c.3 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) PCI Express
Port 4 (rev 01)
00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI
Controller #1 (rev 01)
00:1d.1 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI
Controller #2 (rev 01)
00:1d.2 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI
Controller #3 (rev 01)
00:1d.3 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB UHCI
Controller #4 (rev 01)
00:1d.7 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) USB2 EHCI
Controller (rev 01)
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 PCI Bridge (rev e1)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation 82801GB/GR (ICH7 Family) LPC
Interface Bridge (rev 01)
00:1f.1 IDE interface: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) IDE
Controller (rev 01)
00:1f.2 IDE interface: Intel Corporation 82801GB/GR/GH (ICH7 Family)
SATA IDE Controller (rev 01)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 82801G (ICH7 Family) SMBus Controller
(rev 01)
02:00.0 Ethernet controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd.
RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller (rev 01)

[Any more benchmarks / technical info you want me to look up?]

- --
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