Garrett L. Ward

Why Do I Have 5 Computers, Anyway?

As I sit here surrounded by 4 computers, with a fifth waiting to be returned to service, I have to wonder… why? I’d guess most (sane) people only have maybe 2 computers, something like a laptop and a desktop, that they actually use regularly. I’ve got my MacBook Pro, my gaming desktop, my “server” desktop, and my SheevaPlug all in use, and will probably add my old Dell D630 back into the mix soon enough. And though I do actually use all of them, some of them may be just a bit less necessary than others.

My “main” computer is my MacBook Pro. It’s the only one I have any input devices hooked up to, and I do all of my day-to-day work on it: web browsing, listening to music or watching videos, schoolwork, etc. It’s where most of my important data lives, and if I set up one of my routers with a USB HDD I could probably get by with just using it, if I could find a way to reliably drive a second exernal display off of it. It’s probably the only computer I couldn’t do without.

My server rig is a fairly beefy (read: power hungry) machine, which currently has 5 HDDs and will probably be growing a few more sometime next week now that I’ve gotten softraid5 to work. At this point, though, it’s little more than an overpowered NAS with occasional virtualization and HTPC aspirations. My webserver is now running fairly reliably on the SheevaPlug, and I don’t access anything on the server regularly aside from backing up with time machine. All the other access, mostly video files and the occasional game image/steam backup file, is sporadic; I could move time machine to a USB HDD attached to my laptop or router and only power up or wake up the server when I need it. However, it will probably still remain on most of the time– I need a second computer to drive my second monitor for the time being. I may look into sleeping it at night and when I’m not at my desk; I don’t pay the power bill yet but it’s probably best to get in the habit of saving power when possible for when I do. Plus, getting WOL and Suspend to Ram to reliably work on it will probably prove to be just the sort of hair-pulling technical challenge I love so much ;p. This is one computer I might could do without, but the alternatives have too many drawbacks to make it worthwhile.

The SheevaPlug, now, functions as my main server. I run this blog on it, as well as my irc client and rtorrent, and it does quite well. Blog page loading or anything else involving mysql can be a bit slow, but caching plugins are considerable help in that area. With an external HDD and running ArchMobile, it does most of the things I used to run on my big server. I could, and have in the past, offload NAS functions to it as well, but between USB and network file IO actually maxing the 1.2GHz ARM proc it was far from an ideal solution. Overall, though, it’s a great little box for a low power server and wouldn’t be going anywhere.

My gaming rig actually gets the least use of all of my computers these days; right now it’s driving my secondary monitor since I don’t have a video card in my server yet. Overall, though, I find myself gaming less and less and spending what time I do game on my PS3. Really, were it not for the occasional game of Left 4 Dead 2 I’d have little reason to keep using it but my take on PC vs Console gaming is aa topic for a later post. My gaming rig is probably the last PC I’ll build with gaming specs, though, unless something changes. Depending on how my gaming habits change over the coming months it may go away sometime down the road.

I also have my old D630 that I’ll probably put back in service as an HTPC in the near future. I had it driving my secondary display for a time, but two laptops on my desk was clunky and had issues so I pressed my gaming rig into service until I could get a video card for my server. I’ve used it as such before, and it works pretty well. It’s a bit awkward to fit near my TV, but I’ll figure something out. I’ve considering replacing it with something else, either a shuttle PC or even a Mac Mini, and I may end up using the latter at some point down the road, but for now it’ll do. The HTPC, though, is far from necessary as little time as I spend watching things on my TV, and I may scrap the idea altogether.

Is 5 computers too much? Probably. Could I get rid of one or two? Maybe. But for now, it works. And since I’m, y’know, me, that won’t do and I’ll inevitably break one or more of them in the coming weeks :p.