Buildegg Articles Computer Hardware Analysis

30May/1119

Dual Compost Tumbler

dual compost tumblers

Inspiration

I was just about to lay down $170 for a compost tumbler, but after seeing them up close, I knew there had to be a better and cheaper way (for a tumbler... not just a pile ūüôā ). One of the first hits on youtube was this guy's home made tumbler. Looks nice, and offers the most interesting ventilation system which seems like it would beat all the store bought alternative. He offers up the plans for his tumbler. I'm going to have plenty of materials compost from the yard and kitchen, so I decided I wanted two tumblers, and figured I could modify these plans accordingly. I found a person on craigslist selling those exact same barrels for cheap, so I picked up 2 (plus another one for a rain collection barrel).

Making the Stand

Stratman4u's plans are comprehensive. I printed them out and went to Lowe's. Bought everything almost verbatim, but doubled or lengthened up where needed.

Cutting the 2x6s and bolting

Cut all my 2x6 lengths, and began bolting the feet and uprights together.

Modifying the plans to make a dual stand was fairly simple, and the only major change is the center upright/foot joint. I added some extra wood so that everything could be fastened together.

Center joint
This is how I laid out the center foot/uprights. Long bolts will go through those three pieces in the center, and deck screws will fasten the center braces to everything.
Completed stand
The completed, dual compost tumbler stand. A 60" threaded pipe is almost a perfect fit.

Modifying the Barrels

I found that making the stand was the easy part. I had to scrap some PVC during after some trial and error. Here are a couple tips:

  • Find the mold seam in the barrel that bisects it through the plane in which your axle will reside. Your hole will line up perfectly.
  • Go ahead and mount the closet flange. I used short, outdoor wood screws (the barrel plastic is thick... they will hold well). Insert the 3" pipe at the "half way" point in the flange, so you can go further in, or back out, to line up the axle holes you drill. Mark where you think they should be, and drill them.
  • I used a two part epoxy for any gluing.
Making the pipe

Various stages of piping the barrel.

Bug protection

I used electrical tape to hold the screen on while the epoxy dried.

Great Deal

My total cost was around $100. I'm pretty happy with the cost because I now have two tumblers, and the venting on these is so much better. For getting the compost out of the barrels, I figure I can throw a tarp underneath, and then drag it to wherever I need it, or if I need only small amounts, a 5 gallon bucket.

dual compost tumblers

My dual compost tumblers. The left one is already going.

Filed under: Gardening 19 Comments
22May/1117

Cedar Raised Bed for Vegetable Garden

ceder raised bed for vegetable garden

Wanted more than a 1x4 bed...

My wife and I just randomly bought some clearance vegetables from Lowe's one day and planted them straight into the backyard with a pine border. Fast forward a month, and I'm bit by the gardening bug. I'm not even a big vegetable fan... but damn, I want to grow them!

We actually have, what seems to be, some really good soil in the backyard. I'm sure I could do fine planting straight into the ground (which I'm still doing, essentially), but I love the idea of a raised bed because:

  • Expanding upward allows for even more awesome soil without excavating the backyard.
  • Accessories: I haven't done any yet, but I plan on added pest protection and automated watering. The raised bed allows for these to be neatly installed.
  • It looks awesome.

Left: Old bed. Right: New bed.

Goals I set out to achieve:

  • Longevity: I'm hoping the use of cedar will allow this bed to last more than a couple seasons.
  • Till as deep as I can in the area of the bed.
  • Bury the side walls a few inches deep to prevent the surrounding lawn from spreading to the inside.
  • Fill and top it off with a combination of my soil, extra top soil, compost / manure / fertilizer.
  • Transplant the grass that is being removed to another section of the yard that needs it.

Construction of the Raised Bed

My inspiration comes from this article and this blog post. Here are the ways that my plans differ:

  • Used cedar because it is a naturally rot resistant wood.
  • Extended the columns / posts past the top of the walls so I can use them for accessories I add later.
  • Did not include PVC tubes on the inside. When/if I do that, I will install them on the outside of the walls. (I'll probably use something that looks better than PVC)
  • Did not attach hardware mess to the bottom of the bed. My bed isn't that deep, so the root systems will extend well beyond the bed's depth. However, if I increased my bed depth and wanted hardware mesh, I would attach it to the completed bed before installing it into the ground.

View the image below for a quick overview of how I planned on building the bed. By using these measurements I was left with no scraps.

Plans for the Ceder Raised Bed

Plans for the Cedar Raised Bed

Making the Columns

First thing to do is to make the columns. I would have loved to use a 4x4 cedar post for this, but other than a pre-built mail post, the local home improvement stores do not have cedar posts. The only cedar they carry appears to be designed for siding, so they are never thicker than 1 inch. My compromise (I still wanted all cedar) was to "make my own post" by fastening four 1x4 segments together.

Cut the 1x4s into sixteen 18 inch pieces

Cut the 1x4s into sixteen 18 inch pieces

NOTE: My plans call for 18" lengths... well that doesn't quite work. The material removed by the with of the saw blade, after so many cuts, is great enough to make your last few segments shorter than 18". I'm OK with that... the bottom of one of my post was a little uneven, but I made sure to make that the buried part.

Use screws that go through at least three of the boards. Fasten the boards together from both sides (sandwich them together). I already had some screws which were a little too long; after screwing them in, I cut off the protruding tip with a cut-off disc.

Form columns / posts from by fastening 4 1x4x18 pieces together

Form columns / posts from by fastening 4 1x4x18 pieces together

Making the Walls

The walls are pretty easy. Just measure out 8' on the 1"x8"x12', and cut it. What is left over will be the side wall(s). This plan calls for a bed that is about as wide as one can manage. Any wider, and you wont be able to work the soil without getting into the bed. If you cannot be very physical, maybe make the side walls shorter, like 3' in length or less, to help with managing the garden.

1x8x12s cut once to produce 8' and 4' boards.

1x8x12s cut once to produce 8' and 4' boards.

Assembling the Raised Bed Frame

The wall boards are really thin, and you'll be using screws near the edges of these boards, so they are prone to splitting. Find a drill bit whose width is just a bit smaller than the threaded portion of the screws you're using. Then, mark that bit (I used electrical tape) showing the width of a board. This visual aid will help you drill through the top board, but not touch the column underneath. Using this method will prevent splitting.

Fasten the columns to the side boards according to the plans. I'm sure you know this, but you when you are measuring the overlap distance, it is not 1 inch... "1 inch" thick boards are more like 5/8" thick.

Fasten the columns to the short walls

Fasten the columns to the short walls

With the short walls having columns, you can stand them up and place the long walls against them, shaping up the bed. Use some clamps to get everything square, and fasten it all together.

Stand up the sides and fasten the long walls

Stand up the sides and fasten the long walls

Construction of the bed is complete

Construction of the bed frame is complete

Preparing the Yard and Soil for the Raised Bed Frame

I have some decent grass in the area that I planned on putting the bed. I also have areas of the yard that do not have decent grass. Challenge accepted -- Operation transplant grass. I first placed the constructed bed exactly where I wanted it (making sure it was square, too). I then used a shovel to cut a perimeter.

Cut the perimeter around the placed raised bed

Cut the perimeter around the placed raised bed frame. Be careful, don't knock that bed out of alignment!

I then cut out manageable squares of sod and moved them over to a section of the yard that I tilled earlier. I tried to balance out the concept of not removing too much soil from my bed location, but keeping enough soil on the grass / sod so I don't kill it.

Transplanting my grass to another section of the yard

Transplanting my grass to another section of the yard

I wanted the constructed bed to sit about 2 inches lower than the grass line, so I removed all the soil to that level (placed it in a wheel barrel). I used a post hole digger to make cavities in which the posts will sit. These post holes will be the key for leveling the frame. Once the frame is placed, attach a level to a side, and add/remove dirt from the post holes to level the frame. Keep compaction in mind; if you need to raise a side, add more dirt than the level needs, and then push the post down to the level.

Post holes dug

Ground is prepared for the raised bed to be placed. The plants in the picture are from my old bed (its being upgraded!)

Filling It In

Before adding anything to the bed, I tilled the hell out of the soil already there. While I was tilling, I threw in some compost/fertilizer. Then I added back all the soil that I removed earlier, and mixed in some store bought top soil and compost/manure.

Removed soil replaced with added compost

The removed soil was replaced, with some compost.

That filled the majority of the volume of the frame, but not as high as I wanted. So I added some more top soil and manure, and mixed.

Mixing the top layer

Mixing the top layer: Original soil, acquired top soil, compost / manure

The final product looked so rich. It was insanely fluffy too... it was tempting to just dive in and swim around in it. What is wrong with me?

Completed soil

Soil adding and mixing completed

I haven't worked that hard in the yard in a long time...

Damn that was a lot of work. Assembling the raised bed frame was the easy part! I'd say the worse was transplanting all that grass -- I was doing that at 1pm in 87 F, southern weather. Hauling sixteen 50 lbs bags of soil and compost/manure wasn't bad, but tilling and mixing it was! I had a blast though; I love building things, and this ended up looking pretty cool. Before nightfall, I got my plants back into the bed... I hope they'll be happy.

ceder raised bed for vegetable garden

The completed raised bed for my vegetable garden. (transplanted my current plants)

Now to figure out what else to plant!

Filed under: Gardening 17 Comments
8Dec/091

Intel NIC faster than on-board Realtek?

So you start to wonder if your on-board Realtek adapter is any good, and within minutes you read a ton of reviews and forum posts about how switching to a NIC made their downloadz so much faster. At first I was skeptic, considering broadband doesn't even come close (unless your lucky, most of us get < 10Mbps), but I soon got caught in the hype. Less load on the CPU? Realtek sucks? A PCI-Express card = so much faster?

I bought a pair of Intel Gigabit CT PCI-Express adapters ( Newegg Link ). The end purpose for these cards is for them to be used in a linux router, but for this article I am testing them in my main office PC and a half-way built HTPC.

pair of cards

For those of you that did not know, a 1x PCI Express card also works in a 16x PCI Express slot (the slot commonly used for video cards).

pci 1x slot

Obviously I could use the 1x slot, but this was an example... ūüėõ

Without thinking, I started coping large movies back and forth, alternating between the Realtek and Intel ports. The transfer rates looked familiar, where had I seen those numbers before? Oh ya, those are the same transfer rates as my hard drive. Even at peak speeds ( 110 MB/s or 800 Mb/s ), they can't stress a gigabit connection... plus there is all the operating system overhead. It just wasn't a good test. So...

I used a cool little program from Microsoft called NTttcp ( Docs and download ). You run this program on both computers, it links up, and blasts your network with a load of data. I was able to reach, I assume, the practical limits of 1 gigabit ethernet at around 950 Mb/s. At this point, I really thought the Intel NICs would take the on-board Realtek easy.

ntttcp example

Example run... I did this a lot for the averages

  • Realtek: AVG 944.452 Mb/s
  • Intel: AVG 943.261 Mb/s

Exactly the same. I don't feel so bad about my on-board Realtek ports anymore. Good job. Still going to use the pair of Intels in my router. Peace.

Filed under: Uncategorized 1 Comment
14Oct/09108

RAID 1 Mirroring with Windows 7

Hate the idea of possibly loosing all of your files if (and when) you hard drive dies? Considering implementing a mirrored array (RAID Level 1) for your important data. Most PC users today have two immediate options for building a mirrored array of hard disks: their motherboard's chipset and within Windows. This article focusing on setting up and managing a mirrored array by using Windows 7.

What is RAID 1? What is a 'mirror'?

RAID Level 1 can also be referred to as a mirrored array of hard drives. Mirroring is implemented when fault tolerance is desired. Fault tolerance is the ability of the data contained in the array to remain intact if one of the drives fails. In a mirrored array, all of the data is duplicated across 2 or more hard drives. The general idea: All of one's important data would be stored on a mirrored array, and if one of the hard drives dies (which should be assumed, they die often), the data is still accessible / usable from the other drive. During a state of "failed redundancy", the volume is now only one hard disk, and it would be smart to replace the failed disk promptly to rebuild the array. Common categories you may want to store on a redundant (same thing as "fault tolerant") array: years of pictures, videos, documents, music, and hard-to-replace software install packages.

Why use Windows instead of the Chipset?

Any decent motherboard today will have a chipset whose hard drive controller will offer various levels of RAID. Using the chipset for RAID arrays is necessary if you intend to install the operating system on the array, like if you want a striped array (RAID 0) for performance, however a mirrored array can be implemented using the chipset or dynamically through Windows (other OS's do it too... I'm just focusing on Windows).

For the purposes of having a mirrored array, I strongly suggest building it through Windows instead of the chipset for the following reasons:

  • Portability - A Windows array will survive if you have to replace / upgrade your motherboard; a chipset array will most likely not survive a mobo upgrade (because the mobo will probably be using a different hardware controller).
  • Manageability¬†- "Create and Format Hard Disk Partitions" is the Windows 7's GUI for managing your hard drives and volumes. It is much better than trying to use a seemingly out-dated text utility from the motherboard's chipset.
  • No Performance Hit - A true RAID controller (a¬†separate expansion card; normally expensive) will offer superior performance for any RAID array, but considering the options available to you now, both the mobo's chipset and Windows offload the array functions to the CPU, and any speed difference is¬†negligible. See this video comparing a striped array setup through various ways.

How to set up a Mirrored Array in Windows 7

The environment for this quick tutorial is as such: the operating system, Windows 7 RC, is installed on a hard drive that will, of course, not be involved in the RAID 1 array. Also note, Windows will refer to disks as either "basic" or "dynamic", and to their partitions as "volumes".

A WD 320 GB RE2 Hard Drive

A WD 320 GB RE2 Hard Drive

  1. Install two hard drives. For my tests, I installed two WD 320 GB RE2 drives. Visit Buildegg's Component section to see the best hard drives to buy.
  2. Boot up Windows, hit the start button, and in the search box type either "Create and" or "Disk man", and click "Create and Formant Hard Disk Partitions". This program is also accessible through Control Panal -> System and Security -> Administrative Tools -> Create and Formant Hard Disk Partitions.
  3. If these drives have never been used, it may ask you to initialize them, in which case you'll most likely be using "MBR".
  4. If the new disks do not say "Unallocated" in them, then delete their volumes by right-clicking on each disk's volume and going to "Delete Volume..."
  5. Now lets create the RAID: right-click on one of the disk (doesn't matter which), and go to "New Mirror Volume..."

    New Mirrored Volume

    Creating a New Mirrored Volume

  6. A series of prompts will ask you about some details of your new mirrored volume (array), like which disks are to be included, size of the volume, drive letter assignment, and volume name. In my example, I chose Disk 1 and Disk 2 (Disk 0 being my original disk with the OS on it), the full size available (its default), drive letter M, quick format, and "WinMirror" as the volume name.

    A Mirrored Volume has been created in Windows 7

    A Mirrored Volume has been created in Windows 7

That's it! Transfer all of your important files to your new "drive" and have a little peace of mind. Here's an idea... map all of your Windows libraries (those default ones, Documents, Pictures, etc) to your mirrored array, and you can upgrade hardware / format and reinstall windows all day long and not have to worry about your data.

What happens when a hard drive fails? How do you recover?

The whole point for setting up a mirrored array is anticipating the time when one of the hard drives fail and die. There are two points in time where failure might happen: while the computer is on and you're using it, or somewhere between the computer being shut off and turned back on. I simulated a drive failure while using the mirrored volume and I was able to continue working on files; accessing them and saving them. What is interesting is that Windows will not inform you that the array in an unhealthy state (at least, it never told me...); you wont know until Windows is restarted. When you boot your system back up after one of the drives have failed, you will notice your mirrored volume missing (when you go to access something from it). Fear not, your data is still there, just open "Create and Format Disk Partitions" and manage the situation.

Inside Window's disk manager you'll find the still functioning disk, and it will be flagged with "Failed Redundancy", of course meaning that the mirrored volume is no longer redundant because the other drive failed. In the most common situation I can imagine for most of us, you will need access to your files, and it may be a few days (or weeks) before you can replace the failed hard drive.

  1. First lets gain access to our files. Right-click on the dynamic disk that is still functioning and go to "Remove Mirror..."

    Remove Mirror from Failed Redundancy Volume

    Remove Mirror from Failed Redundancy Volume

  2. Select and remove the missing (failed) disk. In my example, Disk 1 was the disk that failed, so I'm keeping Disk 2 and removing Disk 1 (which is labeled just as "Missing").

    Select and Remove the Missing Disk

    Select and Remove the Missing Disk

  3. Now you're left with a "Healthy" simple volume from which you can continue to use all of your data.
  4. Get a replacement hard drive so you can rebuild the mirror. NOTE: Most hard drives now have 3-5 year warranties, and all you have to do is go to the manufacturers website, fill out the RMA, and send in the defective drive.
  5. Fast forward to the time that you install a replacement hard drive (this may be an hour later, or weeks later).
  6. Open the Windows disk manager "Create and Format Disk Partitions" and make sure that the new drive is initialized and is unallocated.
  7. Right-click on the disk that survived (the one from the original mirror), and go to "Add Mirror...". Follow the prompts and add the new drive.
  8. Now you have a new RAID 1, Mirrored Volume. You'll notice that both drives in the array say "Resynching", which is pretty much the one drive being copied to the other. This process may take the better part of a day if you have large drives, but thats okay because it's being done in the background -- you don't have to worry about it.

Some Notes

A mirrored array is just a controller (in this article's case, Windows) automating and managing the duplication of data across two hard drives. If the mirrored volume is done through Windows 7, you can pull one of the hard drives out and move it to another computer, and use the data. I can't really think of a practical reason to do this, but just in case you ever run into the situation of installing a drive from your mirror into a new or different computer, here is how: Install the drive into the other Windows 7 computer. Open the disk manager and you'll find the drive in the GUI list, but it will be flagged as "foreign". You will need to right-click on that drive and go to "Import Foreign Disks...".

Import a Foreign Disk

Import a Foreign Disk

Follow the prompts and it will soon become a simple volume. Now you have all that data on two different computers. Why? I don't know. ūüėõ

20Sep/092

Striped Array: Mobo Hardware Differences

Striped arrays are accessible to almost everybody ( we're focusing on PCs with Windows). Windows offers a software solution, and many motherboards support RAID arrays. Some boards, like the Gigabyte Ep45-ED3P ( a mobo based on Intel's P45 chipset ), have multiple options for hard drive setups due to the inclusion of their own controller ( Gigabyte SATA2 Chip ). If one is running the aforementioned motherboard, that provides one with three options for RAID 0, and that is not including buying a stand-alone RAID card. Naturally, one would ask one's self, "Which will offer the best performance?".

This comparison is not exhaustive whatsoever. It is a quick, simple test of different ways the average PC enthusiast can setup a striped array. Tested setups:

  • Windows 7 Striped Array by Dynamic Volume (pure software, cannot be booted from / will not have an OS)
  • Intel ICH10 South Bridge (apart of the P45 Chipset)
  • Gigabyte SATA2 Chip (Gigabytes own controller)
  • A single drive as a 'baseline'
Two WD5001AALS used in the tests

Two WD5001AALS used in the tests

The arrays were synthetically tested with HD Tune Pro 3.5. The first test is the HD Tune 'Benchmark' for transfer rates, access times, and bursts rates. NOTE: The Windows striped dynamic volume is not available for the HD Tune tests.

HDTune Benchmark Single Drive (WD Black 500)

HDTune Benchmark Single Drive (WD Black 500)

HDTune Benchmark for Intel ICH10

HDTune Benchmark for Intel ICH10

HDTune Benchmark for Gigabyte SATA2 Chip

HDTune Benchmark for Gigabyte SATA2 Chip

The RAID 0 array on Intel ICH10 had an average transfer rate almost double that of a single drive. The Gigabyte SATA2 Chip benched slower, at 83% of the Intel chipset.

The next test was HD Tune's 'File Benchmark'. This is a more practical test, as it simulates reading and writing files.

HDTune File Benchmark Single Drive (WD Black 500)

HDTune File Benchmark Single Drive (WD Black 500)

HDTune_File_Benchmark_Intel___Raid_0_Volume

HDTune File Benchmark Gigabyte SATA2 Chip

HDTune File Benchmark Gigabyte SATA2 Chip

The Intel ICH10 was about 80% faster on write speeds than the single drive, and the Gigabyte was 25% faster. The read rates were even more revealing, with the Intel array at about 55% faster, and the Gigabyte array coming in slower at around -5%. This test was performed a few times along with the 'benchmark' test on write mode, and each time the Gigabyte SATA2 Chip performed extremely poorly -- in the above case, the single drive was faster than the Gigabyte striped array!

Finally, the arrays were subjected to a simple copy/paste of about 8 gigs of data from and to themselves. There are probably a ton of parameters at play in this situation, but the only variable is the hard drive controller. The Windows 7 striped dynamic volume was included in this test.

Running the RAID 0 array purely through Windows provided the same performance than the hardware controlled Intel ICH10 array. The Gigabyte SATA2 Chip based striped array performed poorly in comparison.

There are two take home messages from these tests:

  • Do not use Gigabyte's supplied hard drive controllers for your RAID setups! Its performance was ghastly.
  • If you're not booting off of your planned striped array, considering letting Windows take care of it for you.

A hardware approach ( like the ICH10 RAID controller ) may be more efficient ( but based off of the above results, that is just speculation ), but the big benefit of a Windows based array is that it does not depend on specific hardware. One cannot move a RAID 0 or RAID 1 array from one hardware controller to another, but if the array is managed by Windows, hardware in the computer can be upgraded without killing the array.

Filed under: Uncategorized 2 Comments
14Sep/092

PC Explosion Project: Part 2

We return to our test bed with lessons learned from 'Part 1'. Now that the weakest link, the hard drive, is mounted outside of the case, can the computer be blown up and sustain an operating environment?

All of the original components were functional after two firework artillery shell explosions from 'Part 1', except for the hard drives. We discovered that hard disk drives were prone to failure when submitted to extreme temperatures and shock (wow, really??). Armed with another old IDE drive and long-ass cables, we mounted our storage outside of the case, underneath the blast zone.

HDD Mounted Outside

Windows XP was installed again, along with 3dMark2001SE, and this time: SpeedFan 4.38 for monitoring system temperatures. As long as we can keep the computer running, we can see what kind of temperature abuse the motherboard and CPU are experiencing.

The first artillery shell of the day was placed in the case, at the bottom, pointing up. The wick was ran out the back of the case through a vent hole. After the benchmark software and SpeedFan were loaded, we blew it up.

The Explosion

Unlike the results in 'Part 1', the Lian Li case remained, somewhat, intact. We believe that the earlier explosions warped the side panels enough that most of the blast pressure was expelled through loose cracks (and through the open 3.5" drive bay). As a result, the majority of the firework burned on top of the computer innards.

It Did Not Survive...

The operating environment did not survive; the computer was immediately shut off during the blast. Inspection of the debris revealed melted capacitors, resistors, and solder points. The BIOS chip completely removed, and those things are in there tight. Unfortunately, simply sticking the BIOS chip back onto the motherboard did not bring the test bed back to life. The A7Pro, GeForce 3, and Sound Blaster were dead.

Slightly bummed, we did a quick replacement of the motherboard and video card. The new components were from the some time period, but cheaper. We think the mobo was Asus, but couldn't find a model number (and it was seriously lacking in features). The video card was another GeForce 3, but card manufacturer was some unknown brand. The hard drive survived, but Windows XP had to be reinstalled due to the change in hardware ( didn't have to do that with Windows 7 ).

To make a night-long story short, we blew up the computer three more times and were never able to keep the operating environment intake (still running). Our best shot was from 'Part 1', the second explosion. In that instance, the computer froze, but did not shut off... it may have continued to run if the hard drive did not die. Maybe we'll revisit this project with a modern computer, but for now, we leave you with an explosion montage from 'Part 2'.

Filed under: Uncategorized 2 Comments
14Sep/092

PC Explosion Project: Part 1

With July 4th right around the corner (Independance Day and overstocks of fireworks), we set out to answer the question on everyone's mind: Can a computer survive an explosion from a 1.5 inch artillery shell? We built a fully functional PC and exploded an artillery shell firework from within its case. The PC was be subjected to shock, pressure, heat, and amputation of components; survival seemed most improbable.

A modern computer would have been awesome to use for this project, but that would be like setting money on fire, right? We looked around the ol' closet for some old parts and found an eight year old gaming rig.

* AMD Athlon Thunderbird 800 MHz  *Asus A7pro  *NVIDIA GeForce 3  *Create Sound Blaster Live!  *Lian Li Case

System Components

We were going to try this project using Windows 7 RC 1.0 (atm, Buildegg = total Win7 fanboi), and thought we would be successful, but we could not get through the installation. So we reverted back to Windows XP, and chose to use 3dMark2001SE as the software to be running during the explosion.

-= Disclaimer: This is probably a stupid thing to do. Don't do it. =-

The artillery shell was placed inside the case, at the bottom, in the center, and in an orientation so that the first propulsion charge would shoot the shell up. We ran the wick to the rear of the case, and out through a vent hole.

Shell Placed Inside Case

The case was sealed up in a way that:

  • All bay covers in place (except for one 3.5 inch "floppy" cover... that was lost)
  • All expansion card slot covers were screwed into place
  • The case sides were slid / clipped into place, but rear screws were not installed

Running 3DMark

The size of the explosion was unknown. It might have been as violent as mullet guy's, or quite dull. In any case, the cameras were positioned at a safe distance, and zoomed in. We booted to Windows, began the 3dMark2001SE "demo", and lit the wick...

... not as loud of an "bang" as we were expecting, but that may be because the artillery shell packaging did not label which shells had what kind of effect. It turned out we used one of the "explode then crackle" shells. Nevertheless, the result was ultimate carnage.

We found the Lian Li case completely dismantled. The front panel, and every 5.25 bay cover, were strewn upon the ground. Both side panels were blown out; now mind you, even though we didn't use rear screws, there were relatively massive clips and hooks holding those panels in place, all of which were bent by the explosion. The video card and sound card were half way out of their AGP/PCI slots. The case, and all of the components, were very hot (almost too hot to touch). There were char marks and smoldering fragments throughout. The outlook for this old gaming legend was grim.

Inside After First Explosion

Did it survive? After the blast, the LCD panel went dark from no data. The power LED on the case was blinking, instead of being constantly on. We pulled the plug to the PC, brushed out any fragments, and reinserted the expansion cards. Power was restored, and we turned on the computer. As the power button was depressed, we were prepared for sparks and/or total failure, but instead we were greeted with spinning fans, POST information to the LCD, and even a "all is well" beep. It was really un-freakin-believable.

There was a casualty however; other than the sound of fans, the first thing we noticed during that first boot was the loud, consistent clicking of a destroyed hard disk drive. Western Digital 15 gigger... rest in peace.

We were not exactly prepared for the system to be POSTing, as it caught us off guard. We grabbed the last IDE drive laying around, hooked it up, and we were installing XP on a just recently blown up computer.

Reinstalling XP on a new drive

Can a computer survive an explosion?

Yes

New question: Can a computer survive an explosion, and continue running?

We had time for another round.

Why did the computer shut off during the explosion? An obvious answer would be the destruction of the hard drive, but there were other factors that could have caused the crash, like the heat and the movement of the expansion cards.

In an effort to protect the drive, we mounted the next artillery shell up in the 5.25 bay area. Also, this "new"  drive was a WD 60 GB; last known to be in good shape (that 15 gig drive was really old). The expansion cards screws were torqued down tight.

We ran the wick out the front of the case, sealed the case up, started 3dMark, and blew the crap out of the PC again. This time the artillery shell firework was not a crackler, it was a one that would have lit up a neighborhood. The blast was so bright, the cameras were overexposed for most of the explosion.

The Second Explosion

The frame that the 3dMark demo was on during the blast remained on the LCD panel, definitely a triumph over the first blast, even though that frame remained frozen on the screen. Other than that, the aftermath was similar to before... utter devastation.

Miraculously, the PC started to boot again after this second explosion. As the system tried to boot from the hard disk, we unfortunetly learned that we had lost another drive. Everything still seemed fine, but we did not have another IDE drive to continue testing.

PC Survived, HDD Did Not

* * *

Before we started this project, we thought the hard drive would be the last thing to be affected by the explosion. Of course, we were thinking about it all wrong; even though the drive is enclosed in a seemingly indestructible shell, its mechanical nature makes it susceptible to shock. Be it shock, pressure, or heat, so far the hard drive does not survive, and is the weakest link.

The stakes are higher now. How awesome would it be to see a computer explode, and continue to run a benchmark. The new goals:

  • Have a PC¬†continue to run a game demo / benchmark as a 1.5 inch artillery shell (firework) is exploded within the case.
  • Mount the hard drive externally / remotely, as it is known to fail in this situation
  • Monitor and log internal temperatures (motherboard temp, CPU temp)

Spare IDE drives are on the way. The project will be continued under Part 2.

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