Monday, May 16, 2011


In my last post, I talked about how I had built my dream computer with two hard drives, each with it's own Operating System (OS). One is Windows 7 and the other is Ubuntu. At that point I was using the Basic Input-Output System (BIOS) to select the hard disk with the OS I wanted to load, and one of my future goals was to figure out how to add Windows 7 into the GRUB bootloader which is used for Ubuntu.

I accomplished that goal last night. I did some research first, searching for articles on how to set up GRUB to point to Windows 7. I read three of them and they all talked about editing a file named "menu.lst". I wrote down the syntax for adding Windows 7 to this file, booted into Ubuntu and proceeded to conduct a search for "menu.lst". It was not to be found. Not to be deterred, I started poking around.

In the articles I had seen a reference to the path "/boot/grub". I opened a terminal window and changed directories to that location.

There I saw a file named "grub.cfg" I opened it up with vi and this is what I saw.

This gave me the necessary bits of information I needed. I first proceeded to "/etc/grub.d", which is a directory.

I used vi to read the "README" file. Based on that, I was able to determine that I should edit the "40_custom" file. I used the command "sudo vi 40_custom" to edit the file. Using the "sudo" command temporarily elevates your privileges to that of root, which is the owner of these system files.

I used the syntax I had learned from the articles to add the entry enclosed in the box above. I then proceeded to the directory "/etc/default".

Once again, I used the "sudo" command to edit the file "grub" (sudo vi grub). I knew from the articles that the menu items index in GRUB starts at zero. Since I already had four entries on the existing GRUB menu list, I knew my new entry would be the fifth one, or number 4 with a zero-base count. I wanted to set Windows 7 as the default, so I set the default entry to 4.

After making that change, I ran the "update-grub" command as specified in the "grub" file, again using sudo: sudo update-grub. After that, I rebooted and was very happy to see Windows 7 as the last item on the list and highlighted as the default option.

I do have to say that I'm not positive adding the Windows 7 entry to the "40_custom" file actually did anything. In my entry, I set the title to "Windows 7". On the GRUB menu list it displays as "Windows 7 (Loader)". I don't know if GRUB added that last part to my entry or whether I could have saved myself the trouble of adding the entry and just run "update-grub" and it would have picked up Windows 7 itself. It's working great, so I'm not going to tinker with it. But let me know if you try that option and it works for you.

P.S. I wrote this entire blog post in Firefox on Ubuntu, using a screen capture tool called Shutter. How's that for open source?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Dream Realized

For many, many years now, I've had a dream. That dream was to build my own desktop computer. The time was never right from a budget standpoint - there was always something that was a higher priority. Well, this year, the time was right. We are out of debt, with the exception of the mortgage. We have our six months of expenses saved up (Dave Ramsey would be proud). It was finally time.

So with the go ahead from Stephanie, I began my research in late February. For those who don't know me, I'm big on research. I want to make sure that I get exactly what I want, for the price I want. There was research on the how-to for things like installing a processor and applying thermal grease. There was research to answer questions such as AMD vs. Intel and two mid-range graphics cards in SLI or Crossfire vs. one higher end graphics card. And then of course there was the price comparison research. By early April I had determined what I wanted and what I was willing to pay for each component. Within a couple of days I had purchased all of the components and was waiting eagerly for them to arrive. In the spirit of full disclosure, there were a few items I had already purchased previously to be used with "my computer" when it actually came to be. I've disclosed those below. On Saturday, April 16th the last component I had purchased arrived. That evening, after my kids were in bed, I began to realize my dream; I began to build.

The Components

In Progress
The beginning

Processor installed

PSU installed

Motherboard with processor, heat sink and RAM installed

Almost done! All components installed and Windows 7 install in progress. The thing with the three red stripes is the graphics card.

The other side of the case; you can see some of the cable management I tried to do and the two SATA drives

Windows 7 has been installed and is preparing for first time use

Here it is, set up completely. The speakers are from a previous desktop computer.
Isn't it beautiful?

Rambling Thoughts About the Build and the Components
  • I went with a new Sandy Bridge Intel processor because it had great reviews and was supposed to be good with gaming. I chose the Core i5-2500K because it is unlocked for overclocking. Though I have not tried to overclock yet, I will.
  • I decided to go with one more expensive graphics card over two less expensive cards due to the fact that not all games are optimized for or even utilize a dual graphics card set up. If I want to next year, I can always add a second one. There's room on the board, in the case and on the PSU.
  • I went with the Radeon 6950 because it is supposed to be easily upgraded to almost the level of the next higher card, the 6970, with a GPU BIOS hack to unlock two unused shaders. I have not done that yet either but I plan to. It can also be overclocked. By the way, the graphics card was huge.
  • The processor heat sink was huge, a lot bigger than I thought it would be. Thankfully my case is big enough that it was not an issue.
  • Locking the processor into place took more force than I had anticipated. I was a little nervous at first and pulled it out to inspect for damage. I had done it right, so there was none.
  • The motherboard has two 6 GB SATA connections and four 3 GB SATA connections. I used the two 6 GB connections for the two hard drives. Three of the four remaining are taken up by the optical drive, the front panel e-SATA connection and the e-SATA connection on the Rosewill All In One card reader. That leaves one for the future, possibly a Blu Ray drive.
  • Once I got Windows 7 Ultimate installed and the PC hooked up to my router, I was surprised to find that it did not have generic Ethernet drivers. I could not connect to the Internet to download drivers and software. And the CD of drivers that came with the motherboard was unreadable. So I had to download the Ethernet drivers onto a USB drive using my wife's computer and install them that way. Once installed, it connected right away. Interestingly, when I installed Ubuntu, it was able to immediately use the Ethernet connection. Point to Ubuntu.
  • Right now I am dual booting using BIOS to determine which hard disk to boot to. At some point in time I will research and figure out how to configure GRUB to point to Windows 7 as an option and just boot to the Linux drive all the time.
  • Dealing with the extra power cables on the PSU was an issue. I eventually just coiled them at the bottom of the case. I can see how a modular PSU would be an advantage there.
  • I chose Windows 7 Utlimate Edition because I wanted to be able to use the Windows XP mode, to provide as much backwards compatibility with programs I already have as possible. I've tried it with a favorite game of the kids, Crazy Machines 2, with no luck. I'll have to try again now that I've updated both the Windows 7 and the virtual Windows XP.
  • For the mouse and keyboard I went with Logitech because I've had great experiences with their products in the past. I choose the two I did for three reasons: 1) They were both wireless, 2) They both support Logitech's "Unifying" technology, which means they can both use the same USB receiver, and 3) They both had mail-in rebates :).
  • Getting all the little connections for power button, hard drive LED, etc. hooked up was pretty intimidating/confusing. I got it right though.
  • I'm not a hard core gamer but I do like to play games occasionally, so I wanted a computer that would be able to play any games that come out in the next few years. That's one reason for choosing the level of graphics card that I did.

I thoroughly enjoyed building this computer. It probably took me quite a bit longer than someone with experience because I was learning and because I triple checked everything. I cannot tell you how excited and relieved I was when I pressed the power button for the first time and it actually booted up to BIOS. And now that I've had the computer a couple of weeks, I can say that I am very pleased with it and am happy to have my own computer, instead of having to steal occasional time on my wife's laptop.

My dream has been realized!

P.S. Anyone need help building their PC? I'd love to assist :).