Okay, you’ve seen one of the deals at Dell for $499 or $249 for “this”:http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx?c=us&cs=04&kc=6W300&l=en&oc=bscwdr1&s=bsd
But it’s a server with fair, but not great “onboard video”:http://ati.amd.com/products/server/es1000/index.html and designed for use with Windows Small Business Server 2003, Red Hat Enterprise, and a couple other enterprise versions of linux. It comes with drivers that work with each one of those os’s, but that’s about it.
There’s lots of discussion on converting the server to a pc at various blogs, “here”:http://www.poweredgeforums.com/showthread.php?t=3213 “here”:http://www.davtar.org/blog/?p=24 and “here”:http://www.irishwebmasterforum.com/general-chat/2829-dell-poweredge-server-149-a.html#post20586
The video card dilemma. After reading through everything, I think it’s safe to say that a gamer wouldn’t want this machine. There are three PCI-Express slots, a 1x, 4x and 8x. In previous incarnations of this deal on slightly different machines, gamers were modding the 8x slot by heating up a box cutter, cutting away the plastic on the slot and sticking a 16x video card in. Apparently, Dell changed the bios so that each slot only runs at 1x. That’s my guess; I don’t know for sure.
Windows Vista? I’ve read that it will install and find drivers. Windows XP? Yep, that works. But I read that at least one person had problems with an XP disk that only had SP1 on it, and it sounded like hardware driver problems. The easy workaround, if your cd does not have SP2 on it, is to “slipstream”:http://www.theeldergeek.com/slipstreamed_xpsp2_cd.htm
a new Windows XP cd that *does* have SP2 pre-available.
The non-enterprise linuxes? Haven’t tried it yet, but here is a “link”:http://download.fujitsu-siemens.com/server/Unix/Linux/Doc/fsc-linux.html
to get the drivers you may need if you know your chipset.
What I did. Sorry, I’m not into experimenting with heated boxcutters on a motherboard. I’m not a gamer; But I am a Photoshop/Dreamweaver-er. I decided to go with what looked like a decent 1x card, an ATI Radeon x1300, which has 512 megs of “hyper-memory” and 128 onboard. (The extra memory comes from your system RAM, so make sure you have lots. I also pre-ordered a “sound card”:http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16829102002
a “500 gig hd”:http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16822136073
a “DVD burner”:http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16827129007
and a “USB keyboard”:http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16823126012
and mouse because the server doesn’t come with any PS/2 ports.
Okay, all the hardware I ordered came in around the same time and I unpacked the Dell. Wow, incredible case. One lever releases the side panel and there are two cold-swappable hard drive positions within easy reach, click and pop out. I stuck the 500 gig hd in the first bay and moved the 80 gig to the second bay, to become my Photoshop scratch disk. I had to add my own sata cable, but the extra plastic “bay click-in holder” was ready and waiting.
Okay, back up a minute. There were some sketchy “quick install” instructions included, so I first booted the computer on the 80 gig drive, and there was all this stuff on there to facilitate installing Windows Small Business Server or Red Hat Enterprise. But we’re having none-o-that, so we just powered down and stuck in the 500 gig as the soon-to-be boot drive.
The instructions are indeed “sketchy” and few. Remember on a normal Dell pc how there is a big graphic with instructions identifying the Power Cord and how to plug it in? Well, we didn’t get one of those in the server. We’re supposed to know what we’re doing, because, naturally, we’re a professional.
Anyway, after sticking in only the hard drive, I booted to my new slip-streamed Windows XP cd and followed the usual install instructions. I would add the new hardware later. It installed uneventfully, and fairly quickly on the new machine with a Dual Core Pentium 3.3 ghz and 2 gigs of RAM (oh, forgot, I put my two gigs of RAM in before the install). You have to order ECC RAM or it won’t work on this machine. I got the exact stuff I needed from “Crucial”:http://www.crucial.com/ , for around $80, a lot cheaper than from Dell.
Okay, the OS is working with the onboard video (and it looks a lot better than I thought, but we haven’t done anything fancy yet). Next I put in the green disk from Dell and installed all the hardware drivers I’d need from the Windows Small Business Server 2003 folder. They all worked fine with XP.
Next I stuck in the new video card and installed the drivers from the cd, rebooted and did the same thing with the sound card. Then I switched out the included cd drive for my DVD burner.
Reinstalled all my apps, and the thing is pretty amazing. It has a huge heat sync fan, but incredibly quiet. The front and rear of the case are completely perforated, and cool air just swishes through there. I put in Photoshop and Dreamweaver to test out the Dual Core and as Ann Coulter says, it went “swimmingly”. I can be working in DW and have a bunch of large photos open in Photoshop, all dragged from our main server in the other room, and there’s nary a hiccup.
Soooo, I ended up spending more than $249 after all the additional hardware, (I think I spent another $300) but if you just want a fast machine that works, you can pretty much just use the 80 gig hd and 512 megs of RAM and onboard video that comes with it, add a sound card and Windows XP and you’re good to go.