MikeC's cobbled-together backup PC

Show off your quiet rig.

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MikeC's cobbled-together backup PC

Post by MikeC » Wed Oct 31, 2007 10:11 pm

OK, I admit it, i'd become complacent, lax, even sloppy :shock: ...about data backup in the last couple of years. Partly because XP has been so much more robust than previous Windows, and because I've kept my main PC away from most experiments with either hardware or software for some time. But as I said, I got lax over time.

At one point, I had a backup system that consisted of an entire PC with two drives, just like my main setup, with virtually identical hardware. All the data (including special windows files like email / address folders, favorites, and any documents) were all in the D drive, which was basically cloned at least once a week from the D drive in the main system to the D drive in the backup. So if there was either data or hardware failure of any kind in the main, the backup was always there, complete with >99% identical data.

Either MikeC error or the satan of geeks struck 10 days ago. Somehow, the entire partition of my data drive got lost, and all the data was lost. The panic lasted a few days while I scrambled to check the drive for physical problems (none), then studied and used software to pull the lost data into a new drive, etc. Disaster was averted, but this experience made me go back to my more paranoid ways. I built another backup machine.

I started with parts around the lab that weren't seeing much use and probably weren't worth much to sell off:
  • First prototype of P180 and various parts from development process. Yeah, almost an historical artifact. :lol: In really sad shape, scratched to h..., dusty, with both black and silver panels. Who cares? -- it'd do.
  • Asus M2NVP-VN, microATX AM2 board based on nVidia 6150 chipset, a fine set of features. The integrated graphics (DVI) would do fine for me.
  • AMD A64 x2 4600+, an early sample that would be plenty of power.
  • Arctic Cooling Alpine 64 HSF -- incredibly simple to install, fan controlled by the motherboard via BIOS on "auto" quiet mode. Simple is good. Check our review, this is a good product and dirt cheap.
  • Two 1gb sticks of DDR2 from Corsair... running at 800MHz. Bit of a luxury, but it was around and it works.
  • Seagate ST340016A for the OS, it's an "ancient" 40GB Barracuda IV with parallel ATA, totally checked for disk problems, still about the quietest, lowest vibration 3.5" HDD around the lab. Doesn't even need suspension, the silicone grommets on the P180 cages will be enough.
  • Maxtor Diamondmax 10/300gb for the data -- a pretty quiet drive with some vibration issues, to be solved by elastic suspension.
  • LG DVD-RAM GSA-H22N -- they've been smooth and quiet, esp when kept under ridiculous speed (like 52x or whatever) using software such as Nero drive speed. I bought several a while ago when the Vancouver store Anitecwas having one of their blowouts for like $35 each.
  • Seasonic Super Tornado 350, a misnamed PSU from the king of quiet PSUs, about as old as the Barracuda IV, recycled from another machine. No mods, swaps, plain stock. Still amazingly quiet.
  • As for fans, aside from those in the PSU and on the CPU cooler, I planned on having just one. The Antec Tricool 120s are a dime a dozen around here, and poopoo'ed as they often are, when run slow enough, they are very quiet. I set the stock exhaust fan up for 7V operation, run the switch on low. The fan takes a few seconds but starts eventually. Will have to keep an eye on that, as wear on the fan bearing may make it not start at all on turn on.
I won't bore you with pics of the case; there are hundreds in these forums, and in our original reviews; just a few specific photos that show what I did with this motley collection of parts.

It's the lower drive cage with 2 clothing elastic bands (prototypes for Antec's 2nd version of the suspension loops in their P150) secured with 4 plastic cable ties (zap straps). The locking head is larger than the holes I drilled.

The finished system. Cables are run mostly on the back side of the motherboard tray, a couple right under the motherboard. The middle metal fan holder in the bottom is removed -- just use a hammer and a chisel on the 4 rivet heads; takes seconds. The extra slack in the cables to the lower HDD is there to avoid mechanically "short-circuiting" the elastic suspension; you want to keep it free floating. The back fan is held with specialized rubber pins in 2 opposite corners and pieces of double side foma sticky tape on the other corners; I couldn't find any more pins.

This shows the CPU cooler, RAM, and a pieces of packing foam used to block off the top vent, which is not necessary for this system. The fom does not stop all airflow, though; you can feel some air stil being pulled through from the topside when the system is running. The AUX12V cable from the PSU is run on this side.

Another piece of packing foam to break up standing waves.

Black electrical tape used to block off additional vent holes around PSU so that its fan pulls from the front vent, thus ensuring airflow across the suspended HDD in the front of the lower chamber.

Here's the hidden cable mess on the far side. Main ATX cable was splayed before being duct taped to keep it flat so the side could be put back on, but the beatup side panel is warped and bows outwards in the middle, it really wasn't a problem.

As mentioned in my recent post, the easiest way to improve intake airflow is to remove the vent doors over the dust filters at the intakes in front. I did that, and in the top chamber intake vent, I removed the filter too. I replaced it with the wiremesh from the "spoiler" cover for the top panel fan. It's just sitting there held in by friction and gravity. The door is always closed anyway, so... (Note how scruffy the black plastic panels look. It's a different finish than the one used in the production black models.)

It's two tone -- sides are silver, front and top are black. Just used the best pieces I had. Looks good enough under the desk where it's hardly seen for the huge mess in the room anyway.

So how does this system work? Very cool, very quiet.

It measures around 22 dBA/1m, but being on carpet and under the desk, it's more or less inaudble under normal conditions. I did try a full CPUBurn test run on it for an hour (which is totally unrealistic given the machine's role as an email / web-surf / photo-edit / html production backup machine). But here are the results, in a 22C/18 dBA environment:
  • idle: 60W AC, CPU cores at ~30C, no board temps over 38C, HDDs at 38 & 40C, SPL <22 dBA/1m
  • after CPUBurn for 1 hr: 128W AC, CPU cores at 57~54C, no board temps over 41C, HDDs at 41 & 43C, SPL <25 dBA/1m
The difference in noise is due to the PSU fan ramping up under extended load. This is an early version of the Seasonic SC2 fan controller, which is now so much more refined. In actual use, the PSU fan never ramps up at all. The backup software is an old copy of Second Copy 2000, which works very nicely over ethernet, especially now that the first backup has been done, and all others will now be incremental. It takes only a few minutes each day. I boot the backup system, run the backup, then do a quick check to make sure the backup is accesible just like in the main system, then turn off. It's a lot of resources for so little work, but when and if i need it, it'll be there 100% ready any time. That assurance is worth the investment.

Is it fast? Very fast with everything, as fast as any other system I've used, including editing of 10 m.pixel photos in photoshop. Pretty good for a motley crew of parts in a near-abandoned prototype case and bits. ;)
Last edited by MikeC on Thu Nov 01, 2007 8:43 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Post by Wibla » Thu Nov 01, 2007 2:59 am

It might be cobbled together, but its still a nice rig :)

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Post by SebRad » Thu Nov 01, 2007 3:42 am

Hi Mike, looks like really nice work horse of a PC. Nothing "cobbled" about the build of it, if that's the spare emergency backup PC then the "main" one must be really nice! You say the performance is pretty good and with 2GB RAM I believe it. Do you know that Windows XP supports multiple swap files? As I suspect the 'cuda is the slowest part of the system you can have swap file on the 40GB 'cuda and another on the 300GB Maxtor and, supposedly, Windows will use which ever is least busy/fastest.
Of course if it's setup so the noisier Maxtor spins down most of the time you wouldn't want to do this. Having personally had an 80GB ‘cuda IV then Maxtor 10 300GB I know that good as the Maxtor is (with AAM on anyway) it’s no in the same class as the ‘cuda.
I'd also like to say thanks for sharing your work with us, I know it takes me an hour or two or more to prepare a post like yours by the time I've prepared pictures, hosted them, written the text, edited it, fixed all the typos, previewed it and then fixed all the links, pics etc. I guess you can do it quicker but I can only imagine the amount of work that must go in to preparing the full-on multi-page reviews that, in my opinion, are of the highest standard :D
Regards, Seb

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Post by andyb » Thu Nov 01, 2007 4:39 am

Thats a quick and quiet rig for a backup thats on <1 hour a day, I would presume that your actual day-to-day rig is even faster and quieter, or at least quieter......

Your idea of cobbled is a bit different to mine, If I needed something cobbled quickly I could find a single core ~2GHz P4 with a gig of RAM, loads of working second hand hard drives, and otherwise standard non-quiet components :roll:

Must be one of the perks of reviewing computer hardware :)


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Post by djkest » Thu Nov 01, 2007 4:43 am

Your cobbled machine has a better CPU than my *high end* gaming machine. :/

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Post by Techno Pride » Thu Nov 01, 2007 6:28 am

I've this fear about tape on/inside computers. Won't the heat cause the thing to end up in a sticky mess?

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Post by MikeC » Thu Nov 01, 2007 7:44 am

Techno Pride wrote:I've this fear about tape on/inside computers. Won't the heat cause the thing to end up in a sticky mess?
Maybe in Singapore, but not in Vancouver. :lol: :lol:

I've never seen the temperature in my office rise higher than 28~29C. Besides, even if there is a sticky mess, it's away from any components, and a bit of scrubbing with an alcohol-soaked rag will get it off.

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Post by NeilBlanchard » Thu Nov 01, 2007 8:39 am


I like Velcro straps for this.

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Post by Nick Geraedts » Thu Nov 01, 2007 9:31 pm

Glad to hear you managed to avoid disaster. Can't complain about a computer that does it's job and costs relatively little. ;)

Just wondering - does the BIOS have an "auto-wake" ability? You could probably automate the backup process without too much trouble. Set the computer to wake up - Windows scheduled task to initiate the backup - windows scheduled task to shutdown the computer. All of this could happen at night when you're done for the day, so you've got a true "day-by-day" backup system. I leave my computers running most of the time, since they're usually working at night anyways (encoding videos and such), and I've got my defrag and backup tasks set to run throughout the night (between 1 and 4AM - sometimes I'll notice them start... hehe).

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