Friday, August 21, 2009

Atomic Disintegration

My new, humble computer based on Intel's Atom CPU was a great little project at a low cost. It benchmarked at about half the performance of my older Athlon XP 2000+ on a per-thread basis, and it provided two hyperthread "processors" for Linux to use. All for about $64 for the board and CPU. (And it is 64-bit capable, but the value of a 64-bit OS is unclear in such a small system.)

Then, for larks, I set it up to run as a member of my World Community Grid effort. That had it running two threads for 24 hours a day. This was somewhat pointless, given that the new Intel Core i7 system is so much more powerful*, but it did manage to churn out some work-units for the Cause.

All was well for about 4 days. Then ping!, the Atom froze. I could reboot into BIOS sometimes, but couldn't load Linux or even memtest86+. An actual hardware failure -- I haven't seen many of these in recent years.

Over a period of days, I got more acquainted with my UPS driver, as I tried substituting various parts. Suspecting the hard drive or CD/DVD drive (old IDE technology). Tried a substitute 1 GB DDR2 RAM. No help.

So the fault was either in the Intel D945GCLF motherboard or the power supply. The motherboard has about 10 million times more transistors, so that seemed the likely culprit.

Using's amazingly efficient returns/exchange process, I had a new mobo in quick order, and all now seems well.

Do I dare run the WCG application any more?

As to ham radio, this system is my logging and digital modes computer for AA6E. We were dead in the water. I could have fallen back to my mic or key and used paper logging, but I wasn't quite that desperate!

* Both in absolute (45,232 MIPS vs 3,060 MIPS) and in power-specific terms (302 MIPS/W vs 64 MIPS/W).

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