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Level-Up, LanCool Prize, Talk 2 The Hand, Chopper-Rebuild-and-Game-a-Tron-3 ,AVP Requiem Rebuild, Through the Looking Glass, Ryzen Nine
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Antec VCool Device Product Review
MGE XG Ninja2 Case Review
Hyperkore Laser-Etched Window Review
Cooler Master AeroGate 1 Review
HyperKore HK-Xtreme Gaming System Review
Corepad Mouse Products Review
Infinity Customs Think Computers Fast Lane Hardware Velocity Reviews Pro-Clockers The Mod Nation
Good times. Valerie came down from Philly too!
A new build (Through the Looking Glass) was featured at this event.
Needless to say, Allen was getting his butt kicked in the game.
Daniel gives thanks for the raffle prize.
Ora has devised a devious plan of attack!
Diana and Dan planning the next attack on Micro-Tron.
Shaun was first to arrive and claim his gaming machine!
Belle won our prize - the complete computer system running Linux from our Memorial Day LAN party!
Greg won our prize - a computer system running Linux; he wanted a Windows machine though so he ended up with 'Chopper' (built in 2009) as his prize.
First gamers to arrive select the best machines. It's nature's way.
Tom hopes to invoke the power of banana warfare.
Allen considers his options with Micro-Tron.
Belle configures the server for Team Fortress 2.
Arthor is keeping an eye on Tinah to make sure she doesn't look at Tom's screen.
Tiz enjoys the neon surround lighting effects.
Arthor was acting as an Internet cop. He ensured everyone got their fair share of the bandwidth.
Simba ensured nobody cheated - if they turned around he was supposed to bite their noses.
Chris caught in the act of gaming
Now we did have one minor problem. We tripped a circuit breaker on one of the circuits supplying juice to the machines in the basement. The circuit can only handle 15 Amps but only half of the machines down there were on that circuit. We turned off a few lights and powered the machines back on with minimal downtime. Overall it's hard to say who came out on top, but if you look at the picture of Sharaz, he's showing a 7-kill streak in Call-of-Duty-4 - that's pretty good. Of course, he's on our newest machine, an AMD Phenom II Quad Core with an Radeon 4870 graphics card.
Rebuild: Thinking Outside The Box-2: Built August 2023
* This machine is a rebuild of the Thinking Outside The Box (TOTB) from 2013.
I was out of control now. Two computers already built in 2023 and here I was comptemplating yet another chunk of money to be spent on computer parts. Was there no hope for me? Well, this one didn't cost as much as you think. I already had a working TOTB in my workbench shelving unit, but I also had on hand a few major components that could transform the old Windows 10 machine into a relatively new Windows 11 gaming computer! I had won some recent prizes from the AMD Support forum in the shape of a motherboard and a few CPUs, so all I really needed to buy was some RAM, a storage device and perhaps a CPU cooler. In fact, this upgrade only cost me around $200, given the parts already in my inventory.
The big issue with this prize motherboard was that it needed a BIOS update if was to run the Ryzen CPU's beyond the first generation. I was given a Ryzen 1800X CPU late in 2022, so I had what I needed, except for the RAM and a few other things of course. With the original TOTB components being somewhat old (2013 era AMD FX CPU), I decided to spend a bit on 16 GB of DDR4 RAM and a decent 2 TB M.2 storage device. I started with the stock AMD CPU cooler, but I decided to upgrade that since the initial 1800X CPU was running around 54 C with the stock cooler. I did the BIOS upgrade in steps, having to flash from the 2017 BIOS to a 2021 BIOS and then I could flash to the current 2023 BIOS that supported my other prize, the AMD 5600 CPU. With that being successful, I completed the build by swapping the motherboards and using the old HDD's as data / gaming drives. I used a newer MSI RX 580 video card since I had it available and the last thing was to install another wall mount for the 1080p 27" display so it would lower down a bit more. Now we have a gaming computer ready for workbench gaming at the next LAN party on Labor Day Weekend, 2023!
With this rebuid of TOTB, I can now once again run all four computers at my workbench without issues. Previously, TOTB was shutting down when more than two other computers were running here. I'm not sure if it was a total power draw from the circuit or if there was a problem with TOTB itself. In any case, the problem is gone and I am a happy modder!
Lian-Li-X3D: Also Built July 2023
* This machine is a rebuild of the Mathmos Madness from 2011.
My original FX8150 8-Core CPU computer 'Mathmos Madness' build from 2011 has seen better days. It had been relocated to a spot under my workbench where it was connected to a monitor and the Internet but I didn't power it up too often because it was so darn slow! Windows updates took forever. It wasn't much use as a gaming machine anymore since I have over 10 other machines that would be selected before this one, so I knew it's time was limited. But wait! There is no reason you cannot rebuild a machine and improve it's performance in all areas! It was time.
I recently purchased a combo deal at MicroCenter for a new AMD 5600X3D CPU and 16 GB of DDR4 RAM along with a nice Asus B550 motherboard while I was buying the last parts for Wine-Time (also built in July 2023). I could not help myself. Yes, even though I just built Wine-Time less than a month ago, here I am starting another project. Somebody help me. But before they do, here I shall document the upgrade process of the Mathmos Madness rebuild. In fact, I'm removing the Mathmos light from the top and it got a new name when I finished - Lian-Li-X3D because of the case and the AMD 5600X3D CPU.
This rebuild was completed after I upgraded the video card to the PowerColor 7900XT and the display to the LG Ultragear QHD 34" 160 Hz curved gaming monitor. This has become a really wonderful gaming computer.
Wine-Time: Built July 2023
* This machine has a Steampunk theme.
* October 2023 Update: Wine-Time made it into the top three finalists for the AMD Support Forum Steampunk contest. Another build won the prize, but making it into the top three was an honor!
I was excited to hear about an AMD Forum Steampunk Mod Contest, and even more so to submit my own creation I named ‘Wine-Time’. My first thought was to build a case from scratch, but I fell in love with the Thermaltake Core P3 TG Pro, so much of my modding expertise centered on the surrounding area where Wine-Time is located - in my desk cabinet. During the research phase, I found some cool things like the handmade Pentode USB drives, a mechanical retro-typewriter keyboard, and Steampunk pipe stickers (intended for use on a car as decoration). The pipe stickers fit nicely in the cabinet, and I used some LED light strips from IKEA to light the interior of the cabinet. To hold the two Pentode USB drives, I modded a small jewelry box by drilling two holes in the top and one hole in the back (to allow for the USB cable connections). Oh, I had an old glass-domed clock that we inherited from my wife's parents and that fit nicely next to Wine-Time in the cabinet. This computer took about 30 hours to build, including the cabinet mods. My last mod was the addition of pirate gold coins and clock gears spilling out of the jewelry box....er....treasure chest. I pulled the vaccuum tube clock out and placed that under my monitor where there was enough light to see the digits.
I ran into a Windows 11 install problem that was really the fault of the motherboard manufacturer - MSI. After my first power up, the fans started running but I had no video. I waited about two minutes and just before I was going to power it down and look for something I missed to connect properly, suddenly I got a video display saying something about I installed a new CPU and TPM needed to be reset in the motherboard. It said to enter 'Y' to reset TPM, so I entered the 'Y' and it booted successfully into the BIOS! After checking temperatures (all were fine), I inserted the Windows 11 USB install stick and rebooted, which successfully installed Windows 11. Then the MSI installed application popped up and wanted to load a bunch of drivers, including chipset drivers. I let it go ahead and soon realized that it hung at 48% of the AMD chipset driver install. Crap. I waited about 10 minutes and then pressed reset. I got to the Windows logon screen but after entering my password the machine locked up. My Windows 11 install had been corrupted by the MSI installer application. My only choice was to re-install Windows 11 and this time it completed without any MSI application popping up. That was a close call.
Performance-wise, this machine is very fast. I went from an AMD 3900X in my Ryzen Nine build (from 2020) to the AMD 7900X CPU and I notice a difference. The GPU in my pervious machine was the Sapphire Nitro+ RX 5700X and my new GPU is the Sapphire Pulse RX 7900XT. Big gaming upgrade for me! Listing of system specs: AMD Ryzen 9 7900X CPU, MSI MAG X670E Tomahawk Wi-Fi AM5 motherboard, G. Skill Trident Z5 Neo RGB 64 GB (2 X 32 GB) DDR5 6000 RAM, Corsair iCUE H150i Elite LCD XT liquid CPU cooler, Sapphire Pulse RX 7900XT GPU, Seasonic Vertex GX-1200W 80+ Gold PSU, and the Thermaltake Core P3 TG Pro mid-tower case.
Level-Up: Built December 2022
* This rebuild of the Thermaltake Level-10 GT has all new components.
You might remember that I gave away a computer during my 2022 Labor Day LAN party. Well, this Thermaltake Level-10 GT was the original case from what I gave away. I wanted to save this case, so I had bought a new LAN COOL case in August to house the older components that were in the Thermaltake Level-10 GT (FX CPU, stuff like that). Meanwhile, I won the Rig of the Month contest in the AMD Forum September 2022 contest with my Purrfection build, so I had the two prizes of a B350 Gigabyte motherboard and an AMD 3600X CPU. I figured I would use those in the new build, but I also had an AMD 3950X CPU and an AMD 5600 CPU lying around too. What to do? Try them all, and that's what I did. An old case but one I like quite a bit for superior cooling.
But, nothing worked. I tried all three CPUs in this B350 motherboard and then I realized that the motherboard wasn't going to recognize these CPUs until it had a BIOS update (the Gigabyte website said these CPUs would work). But alas, I could not do a BIOS update on this motherboard without a working CPU to start with. I wasn't going to tear one of my old machines apart to get to an earlier Ryzen CPU, so instead I ordered a new Asus X570+ motherboard from Amazon (It arrived the same day!). I tried the AMD 3950X CPU in the new Asus motherboard and no joy. Apparently this CPU is dead. So, I put in the AMD 3600X CPU and it finally booted into the BIOS. Soon I had Windows 11 installed (remember to enable firmware Ftm in the BIOS for Windows 11) and now I could proceed with the build into the case.
So now you see the importance of building up the system outside of the case. I would have been pretty upset pulling the motherboard out of the case multiple times as I swapped the CPU. The next steps were to put the new components into the Thermaltake Level-10 GT case (which I will now call 'Level-Up' as a new gaming machine on my LAN). That went smoothly, but I did add some RGB fans a few days later and now we have a snazzy looking gaming machine with a 32" 1440p, 170 Hz gaming monitor on the Big Al Computers LAN!
LanCool Prize: Built July 2022
* LanCool Prize: Greg won this machine at the 2022 Labor Day LAN Party!
The LanCool Prize computer utilizes the working guts of an older machine, the Thermaltake Level 10 GT, which runs close to 5 MHz. It incorporates the water-cooled AMD FX 9590 8-Core CPU, 16 GB of DDR3 RAM, an AMD Radeon R9 390 video card and a decent 1000 Watt Cooler Master PSU, all housed in a new Lian Li LanCool computer case. I wanted to keep the old Thermaltake Level 10 case for a future project and this new case has great cooling along with RGB fans. It will provide hours of gaming entertainment to it's new owner as a prize in the upcoming 2022 Labor Day LAN party. The prize computer will come with a 27" monitor, speakers and a keyboard & mouse - a complete gaming system!
Update: Greg won the machine at the 2022 Labor Day LAN party. It's the second machine he has won at one of our LAN parties. Some people have all the luck!
Talk 2 The Hand: Built June 2022
* Talk 2 The Hand: Taking art to the next level!
This project was conceptualized in February 2022 as some type of hanging mobile computer that could rotate as it hung from my basement storage room ceiling near my workbench where I have built all of my Big Al Computers since the early 2000-time frame. This is a computer mod, which generally means a custom type of case and some unique features that you won’t find from a store-bought machine.
As my design ideas progressed with support from several members of the AMD forum Red Team, I settled on a compact design that could hang behind an artwork my son Tom had created while working on his BA of Fine Arts (George Mason University) in the mid-2000’s time frame. It was a hand depicted to be coming out of the wall (the hand was modeled after his own left hand). He had left this artwork at our family home when he moved out and started a family. Now, with an eleven-year-old granddaughter and a nine-year-old grandson to his credit and our enjoyment, I have been able to build what I call ‘Talk 2 The Hand’ to honor his creative genius.
My final design ideas centered on hiding a computer behind the artwork but allowing for rotation of the assembly so you could see my creative side – an open frame structure of aluminum and steel filled with and AMD 5600G CPU, a micro-ATX motherboard and related components. It’s not a gaming machine, as that would require a discrete video card and another $800 USD investment. Rather, it’s a workbench PC intended to be used for browsing the Internet and streaming audio to a set of Klipsch 2.1 computer speakers. A video card could be easily added though, as the PSU is powerful enough to support one. The support structure for the hanging assembly was designed to handle more weight too, in the interest of a sufficient margin of safety. Swivel hooks have been incorporated to allow for rotation of the complete assembly and they also enable quick disconnect of the artwork or the computer frame if maintenance is required.
Chopper-2022 and Game-a-Tron-3: Rebuilt March / April 2022
* Chopper and Game-a-Tron Rebuild: Pulling the guts out of Game-a-tron to make Chopper into a modern gaming computer!
Chopper was awarded to our friend Greg a few years ago as a LAN party prize (2017 Memorial Day LAN party to be exact), but some problems surfaced with the spinning hard drives from repeated power cuts to the system (in place of normal shutdowns), resulting in a corrupted Windows 7 OS and erratic performance. The solution to this problem was to pull the guts out of our famous Game-a-Tron-2 machine (which was a Windows 10 gaming computer running an AMD 2600X Ryzen CPU and an AMD 580 video card), and then buy some new parts to make Game-a-Tron-3 a more up-to-date gaming machine running Windows 11, an AMD Ryzen 5600X CPU and an AMD 6700XT video card. This was done after 15 hours were wasted trying to fix Chopper, with repeated failed installs of Windows 7 and even Windows 10 OS software. I even tried installing Windows 10 on an SSD through the Chopper motherboard's SSD connections and that failed. You can only do so much before you just replace a motherboard and the related components.
The rebuild process was pretty straight forward, given that I was pulling a micro-ATX motherboard from Game-a-Tron-2 and replacing it with a more modern micro-ATX motherboard (The Gigabite B550M Aorus Pro-P) and a Windows-11 compatible CPU, the AMD 5600X (using the stock CPU cooler). I now have 32 GB of DDR4 RAM in Game-a-Tron-3 though, so it's ready for the bigger games even though I'm still running it on the same 1080p monitor. We'll see how this rebuild works at our upcoming Labor Day 2022 LAN party.
AVP Requiem-2: Rebuilt August 2021
* Alien Vs. Predator Requiem Rebuild: Running well and looking good!
The original Alien Vs. Predator Requiem was built back in 2008, when Tom completed painting the side panels of the Cooler Master Cosmos case. Time marches on and the machine wasn't being used much anymore, so Allen decided he could salvage the case and a few components (optical drives, spinning hard drives, the centrifical fan and things of this nature) but replace most of the other stuff with modern hardware. Since video cards are still twice their retail prices due to COVID-19 in it's second year, Allen waited for the new AMD 5,000 series processor with integrated graphics. This should be sufficient to game at 1080 x 720 resolution for the time being and then the system can later be upgraded with the addition of a video card for higher resolution gaming. The AMD 5700G CPU was purchased the day it was first available (05 August 2021) and the rest of the components - motherboard, RAM, CPU cooler (mostly RGB stuff), etc. was assembled in the orginal case.
Many things have changed in the computer world over the past thirteen years. AMD is now on top of Intel, Red/Green/Blue (RGB) colors are part of the culture, and SSD drives are much quicker than the old spinning HDD drives. The machines are quietier too, due to sofisticated fan curve voltage control in the BIOS of the motherboards. Yes, it's a different world now. My major modification to the case was in the hard drive cage area, where I removed a panel that was pop-riveted in place. I wanted better air flow though this case, with air being drawn in from below with two fans, and then air expelled from the top All-In-One (AIO) CPU cooler and of course the rear fan. Inside the case I still have that centrifical fan blowing air across the motherboard. These fans are nice and quiet too, as the new fans are magnetic-levitation ones from Corsair.
Through the Looking Glass: Built January 2021
* Through the Looking Glass: It's a colorful one! Alice would love it.
The past year (2020) has been rough with COVID-19 keeping us from going out to events and such. By the end of the year, I was starting to think about building a new gaming machine for the new year. Another update to the ZEN architecture (now called ZEN-3, the 5000 series of CPUs) meant I had to have one. AMD also came out with new video cards, those being the Radeon 6800 series. However, both these parts are almost impossible to find at anything near retail pricing. A new 6800 XT video card easily goes over $1K. I elected to settle for a previous generation PowerColor Red Devil 5700 XT and it was actually at retail pricing (just under $500). I did get screwed on the CPU though, as I had to pay about a $250 markup on the AMD 5800X CPU - meaning I paid about $680. Well, it's only money.
This gaming machine has 32 GB of DDR4 3600 Corsair Vengenance RGB Pro RAM and a whopping 1200W Be Quiet! PSU. The Motherboard is the ASRock X570 PG Velocita, and it was ready for the new 5000 series without a BIOS update being required. The All-In-One (AIO) CPU cooler is the same Cooler Master unit (ML360R) I used in Ryzen-Nine in March of 2020 - very colorful and great at cooling the CPU. For storage I of course went with a PCIe 4.0 M.2 Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus drive at 1 TB for the system drive, and then a few Western Digital Blue SATA SSD drives at 2 TB and 500 GB for data / backup. There are no spinning HDD drives in this build. The components are matched to a 32" ISP 4K monitor from LG, along with a Corsair K60 RGB Pro keyboard and mouse pad. Oh, I guess that's a Corsair Dark Core RGB Pro mouse too.
What sets this gaming machine apart from previous builds at Big Al Computers is the idea of hanging the case (Thermaltake P5 or at least part of it) below the glass table. To do this, I had to fabricate a steel frame, using shelve brackets and steel bars. This frame simply hangs onto the edges of the metal in the glass table that I already had (The glass table was prevously supporting Osborne-Again-2, which I moved to another location). I made it out of steel because it had to be strong. I didn't want to hear a crash in the night from a weaker design, you know what I mean? Anyway, the Thermaltake P5 case (minus it's own glass top and feet) just sits on the metal frame. I had to install the P5 motherboard tray to rotate the motherboard 90 degrees - moving it closer to the CPU cooler; otherwise the CPU cooler pump / CPU block would not reach the CPU. I added three more RGB fans to get more airflow across the components, and thus I needed to fabricate a frame to hold these (now I used aluminum bar instead of steel).
Overall the system is running very well. I would like to find a figurine of Alice to place on the case, and so I will keep an eye out for one. I have installed several games and assuming everyone can get their COVID-19 vaccinations by the month of May, this machine will be first available to gamers at our Memorial Day 2021 LAN party.
Ryzen Nine: Built March 2020
* Ryzen Nine: Vertical video card mounting and running nicely.
AMD came out with their third generation of the ZEN architure in late 2019; the best processors were available soon after that but the absolute tasty ones came out in early 2020 - like the 3900X. Prices were'nt too high either but there were a few price drops and Allen jumped on one when the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X dropped to about $420 on several web sites. It was the time to buy this microprocessor and build a new gaming machine! This is a 12-core microprocessor, the largest number of cores built at Big Al Computers to date. There are bigger ones of course, but as an example, the 64-core AMD 3990X costs about $3,000. That's a bit too much and who is going to use that processing power at home anyway?
This machine was destined to replace the aging Ryzen-Sun, which runs the AMD 1800X CPU processor (first generation Zen process). It needed to be a gaming machine yet remain reliable for daily taskings too, such as web page development and email distribution processes. For the first time at Big Al Computers, we went with 64 GB of DDR RAM (2 sticks at 32 GB each); that upped the price a bit but with a 12-core microprocessor you are basically talking about a workstation now.
In November 2020, I decided to modify the video card mounting, making it a vertical mount so you could see the RGB fans on the video card. This meant buying a vertical mounting kit from Lian Li and also a special PCIe 4.0 extender cable to maintine the same bandwidth that the motherboard PCIe ports were capable of. This change looked very nice once I got it installed.
Bowl Me Over: First Built August 2019, Rebuilt in May 2020
* Bowl Me Over: Needs a new name now.
Fast forward to May 2020, and the whole world is suffering with a pandemic known as COVID-19. Schools have been closed since mid-March 2020 and people are getting bored sheltering in place. I'm one of those people too, but my bordom led me down to the workbench at Big Al Computers to see what I could do in terms of fabrication. I liked the cat watering bowl concept for this Raspbery Pi computer but it was time for a change. I searched around my basement and found this single bottle box that once held a 40th anniversary Octagon wine bottle from Barboursville Vineyards in Charlottesville, Virginia. It only took a few hours to figure out how to install the Raspberry Pi into this new case, while adding a few cool features to make it easier to plug things in. The lights are battery powered Christmas tree lights and they work well. I'm still struggling with getting this new SSD to work with the Raspberry Pi as the boot drive, but eventually I'll figure that one out. Overall this is a pretty cool case.
So the Raspberry Pi series of computers run a form of Linux called "Raspbian Buster"; this is a chance to learn a bit more of the Linux world of software. Games are out there too, and this device actually supports 4K HDMI video output. There is a Linux-based office suite and of course Chrome has a browser that runs well. The computer is a bit slower for web browsing than our other machines at Big Al Computers, but that's to be expected from such a small investment in money. Hell, this computer costs less than just an SSD from many of the Big Al Computer machines! Bowl Me Over made it's debut at the 2019 Labor Day LAN Party, and several gamers took the time to see it in action.
Purrfection: Built 09-10 May 2019
Winner of the AMD Forum Rig of the Month for September 2022!
* Purrfection: You might notice that this gaming computer is built inside of a cat carrier. Yes, now you see the connection between the name and the case. But why? Well, I'm running out of things to mod into computer cases. I've done the microwave oven, a printer, a flat-bed scanner and well....it was time for a cat carrier. There is good ventilation too, so I don't need too many fans stiring things up. But the real reason for building another computer so soon after Monolith (built in November 2018) was that we gave Monolith to Valerie a few weeks ago (April 2019) so the desk was vacant. I don't need much of a reason to build something anyway - I'm retired after all.
So this is the third 4K gaming machine constructed by Big Al Computers. It uses the same 32 inch 4K LG monitor as the Ryzen-Sun machine and Valeries' Monolith (she got the computer and the monitor), but this time I changed to just 16MB of DDR4 RAM; its RGB RAM though so it displays pretty colors. This is also my first all-SSD machine. I'm using a 1 TB M.2 SSD for the main drive (this plugs into the M.2 socket on the motherboard) and then a 2 TB SSD SATA drive for data - meaning games of course. The AMD 2700 CPU and the CoolerMaster ML240RGB CPU cooler are the same ones I installed in Monolith, but the video card is a slightly cheaper XFX RX590 'Fatboy' which I had to have since I ride a Harley Fatboy.
Being a long time builder of custom computers, I've learned a few things about fabrication, especially when it comes to the structure that holds the motherboard, the video card and the PSU. This time I took apart an old HP desktop computer (from the 2003 time frame I believe) that was given to me years ago. I drilled out the case rivets and separated the case frame to get an ideal section that would hold the motherboard, the PSU and the video card. This also fit into the cat carrier pretty well, although it's mounted a bit to the side so the top of the motherboard would clear the cat carrier handle section. I even fabricated the CPU cooler mount using an aluminum bar saved from my old 'Printer-to-Computer-Deja-Vu' that I tore apart a few years ago, plus a piece of Australian Cypress wooded flooring that was leftover when our floors were installed many years ago. Lots of reuse in the fabrication section of Big Al Computers!.
Oh, you see that old CPU metal container on the work bench? I cut that up to make mounting plates for the Blu-Ray burner. I thought that was pretty tricky. I even used the top of the can as an outline for the cable access hole I cut into the base of the cat carrier. As you can see, I don't pussyfoot around. The whole build took about 15 hours over just two days.
Monolith: Built in November 2018
* Monolith A new build to make use of a very large case obtained in 2017, Monolith was the result of internal components bought on Black Friday deals over the Internet. As such, this gaming machine is actually quite capable for the tasks at hand - gaming and more gaming! It sports an AMD Ryzen 2700 CPU, 32 MB of DDR4 RAM and a Vega 64 Video Card. Of course there are a few SSD's involved, including an M.2 drive for the system. It will make it's debut at the Holiday LAN party on 30 Dec 2018.
It should be noted that this is the second 4K gaming machine constructed by Big Al Computers. It uses the same 32 inch 4K LG monitor as the Ryzen-Sun machine, and in fact it has the same 32 MB of DDR4 RAM. Since the Vega 64 video card is not water-cooled as is the one in Ryzen-Sun, we had to undervolt the video card to make it perform at it's peak when the system is under stress (i.e. gaming). The days of overclocking the CPU are now pretty much gone but video cards still require some tweeking now and then.
Game-A-Tron-2, Upgraded in August 2018
* Game-A-Tron-2 was upgraded from the original Game-A-Tron because of the demise of it's Athlon 64 CPU (or possilby the motherboard). The system was last running Linux (32-bit version) and was generally being used to enable Big Al to learn more about this operating system, but it would no longer boot up at all. The case was still pretty cool, so why not make this into a real gaming machine for the Big Al Computers LAN? And thus the upgraded version took shape, with some of the latest components (AMD Ryzen 5 2600 CPU, Gigabyte B450 AORUS M AM4 motherboard, 16 GB of G. Skill Ripjaws DDR4 memory, a Thermaltake 750 Watt 80 Plus Gold with RGB PSU, two 240 MB SSDs, Windows 10 Home Edition, and a PowerColor AXRX Radeon RX-580 Golden Sample video card. The machine has total SSD storage and thus it's quite fast, but it's not running in 4K resolution because that would require another monitor so we're still using 1080p resolution, which is fine of course. Good times.
Ryzen-Sun, Completed in March 2017
* Ryzen-Sun came about for two reasons. First, AMD had just released a new processor design (Ryzen) that was now on par with the current Intel processors but for less money, and second - Allen's been using the Level 10 GT for over three years now and a new computer is always a nice thing to have. The release of the new Ryzen processors was the beginning of March 2017, and of course new motherboards and things of this nature would be required too, but Allen was going on vacation in early March. Some things were ordered though, with Valerie taking delivery of those and Allen ordered the remainder of the components upon returning from vacation. The cost? The Ryzen 1800X was $500 itself; add in the Asus Crosshair Hero VI ($250), the 'Be Quiet' 1000W PSU ($210), the Cooler Master AIO Master Liquid 120 ($70), the Samsung 960 EVO 1 TB M.2 SSD ($500), the Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 32 GB memory ($230), the InWin 707 full tower case ($120), the Klipsch ProMedia BT speakers ($150), two 4 TB spinning drives ($280), and optical Blue-Ray drive ($53), a Kensington Slim Blade mouse ($100), an HP wireless keyboard ($40) and the Windows 10 Home OS ($90) - well, you've spent upwards of $2,600. On top of that, I'm still using the old monitor and a video card borrowed from my Microtron build until the new AMD Vega series video cards come out this summer and I'll also get a new 4K monitor then too.
Build notes: I've learned from past builds that you should assemble the components on your workbench, outside of the case, to first test things out. Something always comes up, and it's easier to figure it out if you don't have to disassemble things when you fail to boot up. For this build, I first forgot to connect the power leads to the video card. Next up was an error code on the motherboard that had no reference in the motherboard manual, and of course it wasn't booting. After a few minutes I remembered an old trick - clear the CMOS. On this board it's a simple pushbutton; in the past you used to remove the CMOS battery. Anyway, that worked and once I had the Windows 10 OS installed an running smoothly, I updated the BIOS to the current version. I'll still be tweaking things here and there, such as memory speeds and maybe a bit of over-clocking, but for now I am happy.
So, how well does this new machine perform? So far, I really like it. I was using a good machine before this though (Level 10 GT) and it was running almost 5 GHz with that AMD 9590 processor. So time will tell as I get used to daily life and of course, adding in the new video card and monitor later this year will be a big step up.
Laptron, Completed in June 2016
* Laptron was designed to take advantage of a laptop (about four years old) and also make use of a useless/non-functional VCR that we bought back in the 1980's. Following along the development lines my earlier Scan-a-Tron, I removed the laptop display but not the top cover/keyboard. You see, the whole laptop was intended to reside within the chassis of the VCR, which I had to disassemble and then grind down with a Dremel Tool. An external display would be utilized and because this laptop (a Sony VAIO) had an HDMI port, I could retain the HD (1080p) picture. I needed an external keyboard, mouse and speakers too, since I would no longer be able to touch the laptop within the VCR. Wanting to spend something on this project, I ordered a glass keyboard that was about half it's original price. The keyboard has blue LED illumination when you are typing on it, but don't rest your hands on the keys because they will activate. This is a hunt & peck keyboard and not intended for normal 'touch typists' unfortunately. But it looks cool so why not. I also spent a bit on the IKEA LED strip set that I've used in a few previous builds and that worked quite well on the glass table.
I should mention that while taking apart the VCR, I discovered why it was not functioning properly (it wouldn't eject the VHS tapes). I found a broken belt on the bottom of the tray. I probably could have repaired the VCR but I no longer have any VHS tapes to watch so it's a moot point to hang onto the relic. Better to be repurposed than to be tossed in the trash, right?
Micro-Tron, Completed in March, Enhanced in May 2015
* Micro-Tron is a build intended to bring new life to an old microwave oven that died a few years ago. I knew that someday I would build a computer into the microwave oven and that day has come! This time I used all new parts, including the AMD APU 7850K which has those graphics cores built into the chip along with a nice quad-core CPU. This way I don't need a separate video card and I can put that extra money into a new 27" monitor and wireless keyboard. The 16 GB of DDR3 RAM was a good investment because the APU can use lots of memory for the graphics processing. Micro-Tron is my new workbench machine and it will replace Scan-a-Tron and the Sun X-Terminal for browsing the web and such when I'm working down in the basement. It took about 30 hours to build this machine, so it wasn't a walk in the park. Take a look at the photos below and you'll get an idea of what's involved in the fabrication process. Oh, those three pictures in the third row are the 'magnetron' that generates the microwave energy that cooks the food. It's basically a vacuum tube that emits microwave frequencies when high voltage is applied.
In May 2015, I did perform an update to include a clock display and to add some nice case feet. The clock was fabricated using the guts of an alarm clock I found at the local CVS store and it fit almost perfectly once I had the clock pulled apart. It even has a battery backup for when I turn the machine off.
Game-A-Tron, Completed in December 2014
* Game-a-Tron consists of mostly used parts - many came from my old 'Printer-to-Computer-Deja-Vu', which I disassembled in the fall of 2014. Some of these initial images show that disassembly. It's hard to tear apart something you put perhaps 80 hours into constructing, but the old rig was just not needed anymore and it took up lots of space. The old parts were supplemented with a new SSD so Game-a-Tron would boot and run fast, even though it has an old Athlon 64 3000+ CPU (dual core) - I could not even use a 64-bit OS with this CPU so I ended up loading in the Windows 10 Technical Preview (Windows 10 was announced to be available in mid-2015). The chassis of Game-a-Tron comes from a slot machine that was given to me by an old WORMS (motorcycle group) friend called Jim. He found it on a trash pile near a apartment building he manages and I kept it for several years until now. The time has come to turn a slot machine into a real computer.
Now Game-a-Tron is not actually a gaming machine per se. Why? Because of the old parts that were utilized - an old CPU, slower memory and an old video card. No, this is a machine intended to be a test platform for the new Windows 10 Technical Release, and eventually just an every-day browser machine once the new OS is officially released. Game-a-Tron was built in short order, to the tune of perhaps 15 hours not accounting for the deconstruction of my old 'Printer-to-Computer-Deja-Vu' machine.
Thermaltake Level 10 GT, Completed in October 2013
* Level 10 GT was to be a quick build, mostly because I wanted to get my hands on the recently released AMD FX 9590 8-Core CPU! This processor requires liquid cooling and a very powerful motherboard that can provide the juice to keep it running. I built the machine using some good parts: A Samsung 240 GB SSD, a 2 TB Western Digital Black Edition Hard Drive, 16 GB of DDR3 RAM, an Asus Crosshair V Formula-Z Motherboard, the new Asus Matrix Platinum Radeon R9 280X video card, and a Coolermaster Silent Pro Gold 1KW PSU. I finally was able to procure that Thermaltake Level 10 GT case that came out a few years ago (it was pretty expensive back then). No big mods performed on this case because I liked it just the way it was - lots of good fans with a built-in fan controller and color-changing settings too. It's running at 4.9 GHz, and it clocks up in turbo mode beyond 5 GHz. Very impressive!
Thinking Outside The Box (TOTB), Completed in May 2013
* TOTB was conceptualized in January as Big Al himself was participating in the 1K Beer Walk in Crystal City, Virginia. The idea was to have open frame construction, using some type of light-weight case, and hang it on the wall above the computer desk. This would be the third machine built at Big Al's Computers that was designed to be wall mounted, but it would be the first with an open chassis. With weight minimization being a top priority, and money always a bit tight, I decided to utilize a simple plastic storage container for the surrounding case. It could bear no weight of course, so the interior must be designed to support the weight of the computer components, including the PSU. Aluminum bars served as the framework, along with a scrap piece of plywood. For wall mounting, I used molly bolts with their heads cut off so the whole unit rests on pins - which go through the aluminum bars. Component choices were the obvious AMD microprocessor - in this case the six-core 6300 running at the stock 3.5 GHz. The graphics duties are performed by the AMD/Sapphire HD 7950.
LAN Box, Completed in February 2013
* The LAN Box machine uses the CPU from Tom's Curio Cavern machine, which had a power supply go bad and it took out several components on it's motherboard, such as the motherboard itself and the video card. Tom ended up getting one of the other Big Al's Computers while I worked on getting that machine running again. I ended up replacing most everything, so I got a new case to make this machine into a LAN Box for Valerie. It's rocking a Geforce GTX 660 Ti video card from MSI and that AMD 6-core Phenom II CPU was still cranking out the cycles so it's in there too. Valerie just got it to play with on 03 Feb 2013, so she's been loading games and giving it a try. So far, so sweet!
* Curio Cavern has been doing very well since they opened the doors in January 2011 (almost one year ago). Big Al's Computers is proud to supply a second prize computer for their late-fall Magic Tournament called "PC Tourney". The event was held on 17 Dec 2011 and after several hours of intense gaming, Patrick Cox was the winner of the machine. Speaking of which, this was an AMD Dual-Core rig with 2 GB of DDR2 RAM and a nVidia 8800GT graphics card. The components were housed in a Coolermaster Scout case and it even came with a 24 inch LCD display, wireless mouse and keyboard.
Fall 2011 Project: FX-8-Core "Mathmos Madness" Build
* Mathmos Madness was built as soon as AMD released the new FX Bulldozer CPU. In fact, I ordered the CPU the second I saw it was available - good thing too because it sold out within minutes! This new 8-core CPU is designed to clock higher (4 GHz is easily obtained) and boy is it fast. Some folks say it isn't much of an improvement over the previous 6-core CPUs but I am very happy with the increased performance over my previous AMD Quad-core. We'll see how this new machine performs on gaming nights with it's AMD Radeon 6950 graphics card and 8 GB of DDR3 RAM. The Mathmos name comes from the LED Mathmos light that I installed into the rear/top portion of an older Lian Li full tower case. I did a review on this case several years ago and now it has finally achieved success as my case of choice for this build.
* The original 2006 Scan-a-Tron needed a rebuild because it was running so bloody slow, likely due to a compromised Windows XP operating system and just that fact that I've been using much faster AMD machines these past few years. So I set out looking for a faster laptop that I could gut and exchange for the old AMD Athlon XP HP laptop that was the original Scan-a-Tron. Tom offered up his old AMD eMachines M6805 laptop which runs an Athlon 64 3000+ CPU - this would be twice as fast and it had decent ATI (now owned by AMD) 9600 graphics built in too. So the project started and ended on Labor Day 2011. It took about nine hours to complete the dis-assembly of the eMachines M6805 laptop and to get it into the Scan-a-Tron chassis without breaking anything.
* OsbornAgain was showing it's age this past year, with a dying hard drive and a bad SATA cable too boot. The new Duke Nukem Forever game was finally coming out in July so I figured it was time to rebuild this machine into a powerful and modern gaming platform. I opted for the Nvidia GTX560 in the Duke Nukem Fully Loaded Package along with a tasty AMD Phenom II X4 975 CPU (running at 3.6 GHz without overclock). I needed a new motherboard, PSU and memory too so this was basically a complete rebuild. The results speak for themselves - gaming has reached a new level of coolness with this machine and my 28" LCD monitor. While I haven't finished the game yet, I am destined to reach the end before the year is out. OsbornAgain-2 was well worth the investment.
* AMD Quad-Core Gaming Machine has found it's theme. This machine is called "chopper" because I mounted a picture of my chopper (including a few Hooter Girls for good measure) on the backside of the motherboard. I started this project in early March 2009 and ordered the remaining big parts (motherboard, video card, etc.) on 14 March. I built this machine for powerful gaming but for now I started with just one video card, the Radeon 4870 with 1GB of memory on the card. The system is capable of cross-fire support, so in the summer of 2009 I added a second Radeon 4870 video card to run cross-fire. This is an awesome gaming machine now. It has the mother of all heatsinks, the Zalman 9900 - which is even bigger than the Zalman 9700. I have a 1 TB WD black edition hard drive. I have 2 optical DVD burners. I have a CoolerMaster case. There is 4 GB of DDR2 RAM so Windows Vista 64-bit edition has plenty to play with and of course I'm running the top of the line (at the time) AMD 940 Quad-Core Phenom II black edition. Overclocking is expected, naturally, but not until later when I feel I need more power. This machine is running most excellently right now at stock settings. Below are a few pictures of the assembly. Oh, the new monitor is a 25" LCD - is that big enough for gaming?
2008 Build: AVP Requiem Gaming Machine
* AVP Requiem is a movie-theme case that's based on the 2007 release of the Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem movie. This project was a 2007 holiday build that was mostly finished before the start of 2008 - the hardware was complete but the painting took a bit longer - as in 3-4 months longer! Check out some pictures below, and for more details, follow this Mod Nation forum link where I have my work log.
Old News: Gaming Power Upgrade for OsbornAgain
* OsbornAgain received a videocard infusion, gaining an eVGA Geforce 8800 GT Super Clock card after I extracted the older BFG 7800 GT Over Clock card. The new card fit easily into the PCI-e slot and now there is plenty of clearance between the VGA cooler and the nearby optical drive. Check out the pictures below.
AMD Athon 64 X2 3800+, eVGA 8800 GT Super Clock and 2 GB of tasty DDR2 RAM
This project is almost complete; it's up and running with a mid-level videocard (MSI 8600 GTS OC). The case mods were built for a great Marine and good friend of our family - Lt. Col Greg Davis. The modded case was presented to him on his 50th birthday (late April 2007), and now we are awaiting final funding for either one or two videocards - perhaps one or two nVidia Geforce 8800 GTs. Money is tight, just like it is with the government due to the war effort. Stay tuned for updates this holiday season as Greg wants to have the machine completed before the year is over.
If you click on the link found in the title for this project, you will be taken to The Mod Nation forums, which is a very well respected forum site for computer modders like myself. You will be in the link for this project worklog, and there are plenty of additional pictures there to look at.
Scan-a-Tron is fabricated from an HP ScanJet 6100C Scanner, an HP Pavilion ze4145 Laptop, and a custom Laser-Etched Window Made by Hyperkore Computers.
Scan-a-Tron has been included in CPU Magazine's Mad Reader Mod article in the October 2007 issue. You can also see Scan-a-Tron on ExtremeTech here!
Download the build history of Scan-a-Tron here.
AMD Athon FX62 (2.8Gz dual-core), dual eVGA 7900 GT's in SLI on an Asus Crosshair motherboard
Upgrading bottom motherboard in "Printer-to-Computer-Deja-Vu" machine.
Vista Beta 2 Upgrade for the Printer-to-Computer
Color scheme change and some new parts for the Globe of Retribution
Laser-etched window in Sun X-Terminal keyboard
OsbornAgain was developed from the original Osborne Executive CPM computer (circa 1983).
Velocity Reviews Forum link: here.
Big Al himself gets interviewed on 01-26-06 by Extreme Tech! Here's the link.
Download Extreme Tech's interview, without pictures here.
Sun X-Terminal Mod
Maximum PC Magazine Forum link: here.
Download the build history of the Sun X-Terminal Mod here.
Winner of Maximum PC "Rig of the Month" (ROTM) in February 2005 issue!
Download the build history of the printer-to-computer here.
Winner of PC Extreme magazine "Mod of the Month" in issue 26!
Winner of Bawl's Hot Mod "Out of the Box" contest in February 2005!
Download the build history of the printer-to-computer-deja-vu here.
Thanks for stopping by!