GAS, FOMO, or an embarrassment of riches?

Beginning of next year, I’ll officially retire. Which means that from then on, I’ll have much less income compared to what I’ve had during the last years, or even now. And when a friend from Paris recently mentioned that he was thinking about building a new computer for himself “which will have to last a few years” as he said, I started thinking about my own one.

I have a self-built computer (all of ours are, except the notebooks) based upon a “Haswell” processor, which was Intel’s internal code name for their 4th generation Core series. To be more precise, it’s the Intel Core i5-4460. That CPU together with 16GB of RAM sits on an Asus Z97M-Plus Micro-ATX mainboard, is cooled by some top-blowing Scythe Shuriken, and inside a very nice (with a thick aluminium! front plate) Antec 2480 case.

I’m running mostly Debian Linux, and for looking at newer stuff, I also often dual-boot into Arch Linux. On Debian I have set the CPU ‘governor’ profile to ‘performance’, which means that it’s always running at 3.2GHz (on Arch it’s mostly at 800MHz) – that’s because Ardour, my main program or ‘application’ as they are called nowadays complains if you don’t use a real-time kernel, and the CPU at ‘performance’ mode.

And while running Ardour together with some Sonarworks headphone correction software does make use of that older processor a bit, I’m far from really demanding anything of it – the CPU Usage in these cases stays around 25-30% as long as I don’t use lots of plugins in each channel/track of the DAW (digital audio workstation). While reading internet pages in a browser, or while writing, the CPU is kind of bored as you could say, and I’m also far from using much of the RAM as you can see on my partly screenshot from conky:

(Part of) conky on my computer

So I’m kind of very happy with that machine, and I doubt if I need more than that. Okay, when making videos I sometimes wait for it a bit, but as you can see, in the vast majority of times, my computer waits for me rather than vice versa.

So why am I thinking about a new one? Is that because of GAS, or FOMO? Funny side note about that term of ‘GAS’: it doesn’t have an English Wikipedia page, only German, Spanish, French, and Portuguese ones – although the term is cited to come from the late Walter Becker of Steely Dan fame…

No, it’s the thought my Parisian friend had, about “having to last for a while”. As you can see from the link to my CPU, it was discontinued in 2017, and also the mainboard, RAM, and everything else including that wonderful case aren’t available any more (which is sad, because some things like nice *and* small computer cases are vanishing at frightening and accelerating paces, with a downward spiral of ‘cheaper’ ruining most of the quality we were used to in my opinion).

So what would I do if my computer fails, and I won’t have much of an income any more? Well, yes, using an older notebook with a dual core Celeron and only 2GB of RAM, or even my mobile phone. Both of these would be more than good enough to read internet news (who does still know that term?), or for ‘surfing on the internet’ (and who does still know that book?) – but to work a bit on Wikiloops, or to make music with Ardour? I could forget about this…

And that is why I’m thinking about building a new computer for myself, although I have a wonderful and perfectly fine working one right now. So it’s hopefully not an ‘embarrassment of riches‘ in this case, and also no gear acquisition syndrome.

So what *am I* thinking about?

Well during the beginning of this year, it was my wife who had the oldest machine in the house, and a close relative had no working computer at all. So we gave her old Core Duo away for free, and I built her what at that point in time I would also have built for myself – a machine based upon an AMD Ryzen 7 5700G processor on an Asus (full ATX-sized) mainboard, with 32GB or RAM (both double the size and speed of mine), and a 2TB M.2 SSD. So, this one:

AMD Ryzen 7 5700G processor

This one is already kind of ‘old’ as well now, since later this month, AMD will start selling the next generation which they call the Ryzen 7000 series. These will *all* have graphics cores, so the 8-core equivalent processor to the one above will be the Ryzen 7 7700X I guess. And my friend from Paris even talked about getting a Ryzen 9 one (so with 12 or 16 cores). Perfectly fine, except that they will cost quite a bit more then the outgoing 5000 series, and also demand newer and also more costly mainboards (with at least a B650 chipset, these will be introduced on October 4th), and also with DDR5 RAM instead of DDR4 (or my DDR3).

So which one to get, that is the said question? Keep it cheap and cheerful with “Zen3”, or wait and pay quite a bit more for the newer “Zen4” one? Both options would be better than to go with Intel and their ill-named “Intel 7” architecture which in fact is still based on a 10nm process (and I hate liars and marketing people who just “pretty up” (non-)facts). Zen3 is 7 *real* nanometers, Zen4 will be 5nm, an architecture as small as the one on iPhones. Take that, Intel – and of course this will again help in saving energy as well (while our machines are waiting for us).

Keep that last bracket in mind – most of the time, the *vast* majority of time, computers are waiting for us, and not vice versa. Which means that a *faster* computer will be waiting *faster* for you and me, idling at higher clock speeds, consuming more power – for nothing. So yes, energy efficiency is a big point for me (us) – we never bought or built machines with dedicated graphics cards for instance, since first we’re no gamers (and for any 3D games Zuleikha also has a Nintendo Switch), secondly because these graphics cards would also be idling most of the time, and *when* being used, these consume up to 300 Watts – for comparison, my machine while waiting for me in the picture above takes slightly over 30 Watts (the processor has a TDP of 88W), and Mitchie’s machine is around 20 Watts doing the same (her processor has a TDP of 65W). That’s still more than a good notebook would take, but well…

So while Intel’s processors caught up a bit, mostly due to improvements in the Linux kernel as a recent article on Phoronix shows, they are still drawing up to 240 Watts out of your wall socket even without any graphics cards – so they’re out of the question. The Zen4 processors start at 105W TDP, mostly – I guess – because they want to catch up with Intel’s brute power single core results, don’t know if I’d really need that. But of course, 5nm against 7nm for Zen3, so in theory while doing the same, the newer ones should take less power. Guess I’ll have to wait for the first benchmarks and comparison tests, so until October. Earlier ones will be made on X670 mainboards which are simply overkill for most of us (except maybe some gamers, or whom are they going to impress with that kind of overbuilding things?).

Time to steer back a bit in my humble opinion, and to think about what we really need. Normal ‘web surfing’ is best done on mobile phones since quite a while, notebooks are way more efficient than desktop computers, and the latter ones could be made to other standards than pure and max power performance I think…

Plus, the maximum efficiency is of course only achieved when using your computer(s) as long as you can. Which means that for me – inflation also considered – I should perhaps lay some money on the side for later; not for now. And if ‘later’ means that I wouldn’t be able to buy a Zen3 (or Ryzen 5000) machine anymore – well that’s the way things are going; can’t change much of that. Plus, who knows, maybe there still *are* improvements which are good for us all?

Like always, thanks for reading.

P.S.: I just read on ZDNet (one of the better online magazines) about Linus Torvalds and his M2 MacBook Air and self-built home computers… very interesting, very much my thoughts – except that I definitely wouldn’t need an AMD Threadripper 😉

P.P.S.: above thought about laying some money aside and to wait and see how long mine will keep working is exactly what Mitchie proposed – sounds clever to me 😉

Modern day Linux on an older machine

Recently I reported about another article on why people run Linux on their machines. And one of the reasons is always: because it doesn’t make your hardware obsolete, like Windows or MacOS both are doing. Proof of the pudding: here is Mitchie’s old Lenovo SL500, a dual core (Intel T5670) 2GB notebook from ca. 2008, running a current Arch Linux with the latest 5.18.2 kernel, the same which I have on my main machine:

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Modern day Linux on an older machine, Mörfelden-Walldorf 2022

If you enlarge the photo on Flickr you can probably see that its CPU is at 1%, which means it’s doing nothing except wait for any user input. And the system together with the very nice and modern XFCE desktop consumes just about 750MB of the total 2GB main memory – so it’s perfectly usable. Well maybe not for real number-crunching, video de- or encoding, or music production, but you get the point – as an everyday surf machine or even to watch videos on your lap, it’s perfectly fine.

I always encourage friends to try this, and we have converted many older machines in the greater family to Linux, no need at all to constantly spend any money just to stay “current”. As you can see, the version of Linux I’m running here is as current as it can get, much more modern, safe, and stable than your typical consumer OS.

We only boot into Windows if we absolutely must, and we’re all doing that since years (and Zuleikha since she was born). So this is an easy recommendation from friends to friends, ’cause that’s what we’re doing here. Oh, and by the way: thanks again to my son Jeremy who first suggested trying Arch to me some years ago. If you need “current”, that’s a nice one!

As always, thanks for reading.

Art buyers

Last time we were in Frankfurt, I discovered that little store where they sell limited photography prints of all kinds of things. Mitchie and Zuleikha loved it, once inside and browsing, and in the end they bought a smallish (and not so limited) print of the library of Trinity College in Dublin. You can see a bigger version left of them in the shop:

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Art buyers, Frankfurt am Main 2022

They packed it nicely, and it’s not even unpacked yet:

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Art buyers’ bag, Mörfelden-Walldorf 2022

More about the artist on his website. As always, thanks for viewing.

Activities on a Sunday in late April…

Today I upgraded Mitchie’s computer to ‘Jammy Jellyfish‘, and I also installed a small WLAN repeater which we bought yesterday so that both Zuleikha and Mitchie have better WiFi coverage in their rooms.

Oh, and the new and LTS (long term supported) Ubuntu desktop is also covered here. Personally, I am running Debian and Arch, but I’m still a big proponent of Ubuntu. It is in fact the better business desktop, just as Steven writes.

As always, thanks for reading. And good night.

4G

  • geimpft
  • geboostert
  • getestet
  • genesen

We’re recovering from CoVid. And we all had mild progressions, thankfully – and surely because we all had three vaccinations. Don’t take this one easily, friends, it could seriously hurt you, and it’s definitely not a walk through the woods…

New MIDI keyboard

My old MIDI master keyboard with 49 keys was pretty finished, and I had that since 25 or 30 years – so time for a new one. I would have bought another simple and cheap one, but then saw a good deal with lots of additional full versions of libraries, like a Rhodes e-piano and a Mini Moog synth, so I could hardly say “no” to that. And I think Zuleikha likes it as well…

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MIDI Masterkeyboard, Mörfelden-Walldorf 2022

So that was a right decision… and like always, thanks for reading.

Which Linux version(s) would I recommend? (And which one(s) am I using myself?)

I often was asked this question, mostly by (now former) colleagues, and sometimes also by family and friends. And since my journey through the different versions and flavours of Linux and Unix (mostly Solaris and the BSDs) was quite a curvy one, and I arrived at my current state and choice through recommendations/suggestions/encouragements myself, I thought I should probably write about it.

First, you have to decide whether you’re a total beginner, and what your reasons and preferences to thinking about switching to Linux are, or to anything else than the big mainstream operating systems like Windows and/or MacOS. And since the question about which Linux to choose is mostly asked by beginners, let me give kind of a quick & dirty (which is a joke! It doesn’t tell anything about the quality of the following!) advice first:

  • Beginners:

Use Ubuntu, full stop.

There are many reasons why you should start with a simple solution and choice like Ubuntu, but the first and maybe most important one is the sheer size of it, the numbers of people who download, try, and give advice and tips about this free operating system. Don’t get me wrong, there’s also criticism about it, but that’s mostly by people who already have seen and used other distributions. As a beginner, you can’t go wrong with Ubuntu, and you will always find help in case you’ll encounter some problem which you can’t find handled in the help files already.

Ubuntu looks very different from other operating systems, both commercial and free ones – it is now based on Gnome 3 but still applies its own look & feel onto it. There’s another distribution which is based upon Ubuntu (which in turn is based upon Debian, but more to that later), and which has a certain degree of eye candy and might appeal to people who like the look of MacOS, and that is

Elementary OS.

I myself had only a brief encounter with it so far, but a friend from Paris uses and seems to like it a lot. My first impression (of only minutes, so maybe not very valuable) was that it indeed is pretty like MacOS, but to me it seemed to be similarly restricted in a way that I’d have had to find out how to use other tools and programs than the ones which are delivered with it out of the box. Too much effort for me for just a bit of eye candy, so I gave up quickly, but if you like it, give it a try, YMMD…

By the way, about this “give it a try“: you can download so-called “Live Images” of most of the distributions I’ll mention here, with the exception of just one. That means that if you download the offered live image and put it onto a bootable medium like a CD or DVD or a USB stick (search for “Rufus” if you are on Windows), you can boot from these media and try any of these distributions (except one) without even touching your already installed system – so there’s no harm done if you decide that you do not like what you see. Go and try the next one, or give up – it’s all about choice.

So what is my first choice, and the system I’m using since about 20 years and counting? I’ll cover that under a new chapter like:

  • Intermediate users:

I’m using Debian GNU/Linux since before my youngest was born. I’ve had it on servers and on my own desktop and notebook machines since a former colleague from Austria suggested to have a look (Thanks Peter!), I first got the feeling and urge to give something back with using this distribution – which is what I did – and now even some relatives like my brother are running it (although my wife and daughter are both still on Ubuntu, see my recommendation above).

Debian comes in three different versions, called “stable”, “testing”, and “unstable” (plus some additional ones like “experimental”, but that is beyond this article). I’m using “stable” because that is what I want – a stable operating system which never breaks, and which lets me concentrate on what I want or need to do, instead of dealing with my OS.

The disadvantage about being stable is that Debian never has the newest stuff. There are some exceptions, so core applications like web browsers or mail clients (Firefox-ESR and Thunderbird in my case) follow the “upstream” development and they do get updates, but in case you always want the latest and greatest, then Debian stable might not be the right choice for you. The release cycles of Debian are quite long – their release team members are proud of their choice to “release when we’re ready” – so if you want or need anything more current, you probably need to look elsewhere. Or try Debian “testing” or even “unstable”, don’t be afraid of these names because Ubuntu and others are based on them (but they still take out some headaches you might get when simply choosing one of these without being able to deal with problems yourselves).

So for something newer and more current, I’d suggest to look at some distributions which use a so-called rolling release model. That’s a bit like Debian “unstable” (also called “Sid” because that is the boy from the neighbourhood in the film “Toy Story” who always breaks toys), but some of these rolling release distros are still a bit polished, and you’ll get some kind of hand-holding. Like for instance with

Manjaro Linux. Manjaro is based upon Arch Linux, and like it it follows a rolling release path, using its own repositories, which is why you might compare the relations of Manjaro and Arch to the ones of Ubuntu and Debian – think of it just as a more beginner-friendly version of Arch. There are others like for instance EndeavourOS who don’t even use own repositories (I think, only tried it briefly as well), but the closer you’ll get to Arch itself, the more you might ask yourself if you really need some kind of friendly installer and polish, or if you’d rather learn – and that brings me to the

  • “Pro” users,

and to:

Arch Linux itself, which is my second choice, and my “testbed” for newer stuff like pipewire, new kernels, and so on. Arch is the only mentioned distribution which does not provide any live image, so what you boot into is the installer (text based), and although Arch now has an arch-installer script, this one is very rudimentary at this moment, so in case you’d like to keep other operating systems which you already have on your hard disk / SSD, you’ll have to go through the very well documented manual installation, and to put in stops and detours in case you’d like to have a dual or triple boot system like I do.

Arch was first mentioned to me by my son Jeremy, and I’m glad he did (thanks son!). It is really nice if you can just reboot into some fresh OS to try out things for which you might need another kernel or architecture or whatever. But it will also teach you about how little you know, so you’ll have to bring the urge to learn something new, or else this won’t be much fun. The package manager still is – for me – not as intuitive as “apt”, Debian/Ubuntu’s “Advanced Packaging Tool”, but it’s still far better IMO than Red Hat’s notoriously well-known “RPM hell” (and yes I know, both Fedora and Red Hat plus others like Suse now have programs and tools to resolve dependencies, good for them, but I prefer to avoid commercial stuff, thank you very much) – but hey, did I say something about learning new stuff? And for that you can’t have much more than Arch’s Wiki which is one of the best I’ve seen so far.

  • Conclusion

So there you have it. On my current boot drive (a 1TB SSD) I have a triple boot setup where I started with an Arch image to create an UEFI partition big enough to hold boot loaders for three systems (and I’ve learnt about that from Arch as well), then installed Windows 10 Pro, Arch, and Debian onto it, so when I now switch on my machine it will boot into Debian if I don’t interrupt that to select something else. In the future, Windows will be wiped off of my drive (won’t install something like Win11), but I’ll probably keep both Arch and Debian because these are my choices. Debian for its stability and for “daily work”, Arch to learn, and to try out new things.

No spyware. Like I wrote, Linux is about choice. But so would be any of the BSDs if you’d want something even more “exotic”.

Hope that helped answering some question(s), and as always, thanks for reading. Oh, and by the way, of course I have written this on one of the mentioned systems, which in this case was Arch Linux.

P.S., from Monday March 21st, 2022: in case you want Debian stable but still need some newer package(s), have a look at its backports pages, and follow the instructions.

P.P.S, from Monday March 28th, 2022: the new and upcoming Arch Installer script looks pretty neat, see https://github.com/archlinux/archinstall/releases/tag/v2.4.0.rc1 – that should/could probably help those who would like to use plain Arch without going the manual way…

Visiting Tuna

Today it’s exactly a year since “our” Tuna died. And of course we had to visit her grave. I took my camera, and even a 2nd battery just in case – but forgot the SD card which was still in my computer at home from this morning.

So here are two snapshots from the phone instead:

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Tuna’s grave from behind, Frankfurt 2022
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Tuna’s grave, Frankfurt 2022

We still miss her each day, so thanks for viewing.

Happy birthday sayang :)

Today is my wife’s birthday, so we got a few presents for her. I built her a new computer…

Happy birthday… 🙂

For those who are interested: here are some links and a parts list (hint: I used slightly more)… oh, and like the c’t magazine wrote, it runs just fine with Ubuntu 21.10 (although the recent kernel 5.16 would have been even better for this new hardware). But everything like the integrated AMD graphics or the wireless runs out of the proverbial box.

P.S.: Mitchie just measured the power consumption when doing nothing on her Ubuntu 21.10 desktop (but with WiFi on) – the meter cycles between 19.3 and 20.5 Watts, so I’d say that’s an average of about 19.9W. Cool; mine takes slightly more than 31W when doing nothing (which is what computers do most of the time, they’re always waiting on us instead of vice versa…) 🙂