Building a new PC (page three)

Setup the software

Installing Windows XP

To use the SATA drives to their fullest, I used a software utility from the Asus support site which creates a diskette that contained the Intel ICH9R driver. This driver makes it possible to install Windows XP with the BIOS option "SATA Configuration" set as "AHCI". This should allow the drives to use features such as NCQ, the aim being to improve performance. But you must have the driver diskette before you install XP (and remember to press F8 when the installer asks if you have RAID drivers you want to use); as far as I understand it, you cannot simply install an AHCI/RAID driver in XP later on and then change the BIOS to AHCI mode.

Driver diskette ready, I installed Windows XP successfully with the drives in AHCI mode, which was pleasing. Overall, though, I loathe installing Windows, because you have to start off with your years-old CD, and then download patch after patch, apply service pack after service pack, and suffer reboot after reboot, to get Windows up to a version that is safe to use on the internet. Even with a Service Pack 3 install CD, it took me almost two hours to get to a fully-patched version of Windows XP SP3.

Asus InstAll also seems to like life in the slow lane. To install five drivers (for Intel chipset, onboard sound, network interfaces, etc) it took an unbelievable amount of time. I could have installed Doom3 in less time. At least the drivers that came with the BFG 8800 GT OC installed within about thirty seconds.

The on-board sound worked fine, though I decided that I wanted to use Creative EAX, so I installed drivers for the Audigy 2 soundcard. Sound from the Audigy worked fine at first, and for a few seconds after a reboot, then it would vanish, and not come back until I reinstalled the device, only to vanish again after the next reboot. I spent ages trying to fix this: uninstalling the on-board sound drivers, disabling the on-board sound chip in the BIOS, reinstalling the Audigy, but nothing worked. In the end I discovered that if you go into Device Manager in XP and choose the View menu option "Show Hidden", you see a couple of other sound-related devices that you don't normally see. I unistalled these, then reinstalled the Audigy 2 and finally the sound worked and continued to work after rebooting. Computers, eh? Must have been some remnant from the on-board sound software that was loading just after reboot, and was not being automatically uninstalled when the rest of the on-board software was uninstalled.

Installing Ubuntu Linux

To take advantage of the shiny new 64-bit processor, and the full 4GB of installed RAM, I downloaded and burnt to CD a copy of the Ubuntu Hardy Heron AMD64 installer. (It's called the AMD64 desktop CD, but it's also the correct one to use for an Intel 64-bit processor.) I booted from this newly-created CD at 18:10 and, even after procrastinating at the disk partition stage, I had booted into the desktop by 18:53. Less than forty-five minutes to install and boot into a fully up-to-date operating system, though that time doesn't include the quarter-hour-or-so to download and burn the install CD. Still, compared to fighting with the repetetive Windows install, it was luxury.

The luxury ended just after that, as I couldn't get Ubuntu to work with the network interface. I spent an hour struggling to get it to work reliably with either of the two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the Asus P5K Premium WiFi-AP motherboard, and only then did I find an online forum posting that explained that where a PC has two network interfaces, they must be configured to be on separate subnets. So I put one interface on a 192.168.x.x subnet, and the other on a 10.0.0.x subnet, and networking worked fine after that. So it was probably my fault, but it would have been very nice if Ubuntu had helpfully spotted that I had two interfaces and offered me advice in the first place.

The Audigy 2 worked without any trouble in Ubuntu. Setting up a software RAID volume using mdadm didn't take long, even though I'd already put files onto one of the partitions and had to use the recovery console before I was permitted to clear them off and use that partition as part of the RAID volume.

Getting my files off of the old machine and into Ubuntu wasn't as easy as I'd expected. I'd forgotten that Linux takes security more seriously than Windows, and Ubuntu was asking for a password to access the shared folders on the FAT32 partition, even though there was no password. Rather than create a user account, I did the lazy thing and just booted into Windows XP on the old machine. Windows XP couldn't care less about security of shared folders, and it happily served up the files to Ubuntu without asking for any passwords. However, getting my files off of the ext3 Linux partition on the old machine forced me to stop being lazy (because Windows cannot read Linux partitions at all) and I had to create a Samba user account on the old machine by typing this into a command line:

sudo smbpasswd -a bob

and then choosing a password. It did bug me that Ubuntu offers a graphical interface for Samba that doesn't seem to warn you that you need to do this first.

An annoyingly necessary piece of software these days is Adobe Flash. Adobe haven't written a 64-bit version of Flash yet, so I tried out the open source alternatives in Ubuntu: swfdec and Gnash. I could only get YouTube to work using swfdec; it didn't work at all in Gnash when I tried it. And even swfdec causes Firefox to crash far too often when trying to run a Flash object. And the player didn't work with either.