When Mayhem[s] Is A Good Thing

As I continue to work towards the build of “The Kraken” – my new, water-cooled PC – that activity is currently concentrating on purchase of the various components I will need. Having started with the case [which I made a snap purchase to acquire when the model went end-of-life], attention has turned to internals.

This week my focus got to one of the single most important items – coolant. You might be tempted to think that in a water-cooled (properly: liquid-cooled) PC, this was easy. You would be wrong. For a start, systems can get very hot – CPU temperatures up to 80 centigrade are not uncommon, so you want a coolant that won’t start to bubble even as it works [because bubbles can cause airlocks]. You might have different metals in your coolant loop [cooper, nickel, aluminium, etc], so with “just water” there is a high chance of electrolysis – a current forming between metal surfaces, which eats them away and contaminates the coolant.

In other words, coolant is something that you need to get right. 100% right.

Enter Mayhems. A proud British company, Mayhems has been synonymous with state-of-the-art water cooling since the earliest days of consumer-grade water-cooled PCs. They offer cleaning kits, coolant, and a huge range of accessories, including anything you might want or need to get started.

As it happened, my main hardware supplier (OverClockers) didn’t have any Mayhems cleaning kits in stock, so I decided to go to the source and order everything I needed.

What an amazing experience that turned out to be.

Not only was I able to source everything I went in search for [and more!], but when I called to ask for advice on specific types of coolants and understanding the risks of mixing copper and nickel units in a loop, I picked up some absolutely priceless general advice on setting up, testing, filling and maintaining the 3 coolant loops the new beast will hold.

From “little things” like, “don’t forget, when you connect up your tubing to radiators, set them so that the hot coolant goes in the lower port and the cooled coolant comes out the top port – that way your pump will be working with convection, not against it…” and, “do NOT use quick-release connectors. Just DON’T!!!” right down to some real in-depth guidance on how the selection of the right components [like water blocks] can make a huge difference to temperatures.

Here is a proud British company that put their passion and their expertise into being the best supplier of solutions for liquid-cooled PCs. They’ve taken on the world and are recognised as the best in the business. Having now had first-hand experience, I can see why. Power to them.


The Wisdom of Crowds

According to James Surowiecki, author of “The Wisdom of Crowds”, group decisions are often better than those that could have been made by any single member of the group. One interesting anecdote Surowiecki offers comes via Francis Galton, who observed that the crowd at a country fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when all their individual guesses were averaged, far better than any individual in the crowd.

On the other hand, this only goes so far.

Last week one of my machines asked if it could update the core Operating System kernel from 4.15.0.43.45 to 4.15.0.44.46. The upgrade worked flawlessly, but immediately thereafter I was unable to use my USB-connected keyboard or mouse. I took my question to the community forum that supports the Linux Distro that I use, posting a detailed breakdown of what had happened, an extract from my system log and waited… Then I got a response, which read (typos and all):-

Tnis isn’t as unusual as many newer Linux users think. Not at all. No one can say what may have happened with very few system details posted and then it’d be iffy whether you get a response.”

Hang on, were the “very few system details” down to me? Did I fail to provide enough detail? OK, I’ll ask. I did – a polite request for clarification, backed up by an offer to detail any additional detail that the responder would like to see. They soon replied (again with typos intact):-

Post the text output of

inxi -Fxz

(Was going to put this in but got interrupted.) And you should try rebooting while holding down the left shift key to bring up the grub menu, then boot from the previous kernel. If it works fine then, remove the newest kernel and reboot.”

Except… that by the time that this helper was asking me to reboot to an older kernel, retest and, if I discovered that the issue went away… I had already done all these things and posted the results in to the thread above where I was given these instructions.

I did as asked, however, and posted the inxi results. The next post?

Well, according to this …” {a link was provided}, “… you should try installing the 4.15.0-15 kernel.”

So once more I went back and politely pointed out that my very first post had already clearly stated that I was running 4.15.0-43.45 – a significantly more recent kernel than 4.15.0-15. So: why would I go back 28 patch levels?

Funny old thing, the person who had stepped in to help, who has been a member of our community forum since December 2012 and who has made over 4,700 posts in that time, did not bother to reply again. Curious, I went back and looked through their post history. I discovered in this process that the person concerned is blunt to the point of being rude, obtuse and cryptic when giving advice (for example telling an inexperienced user to do a complex task with no hint as to how to do so) and, when left facing a situation in which their knowledge or advice was found to be wrong, would either argue, drop from the thread, or do both.

The irony here is that there is a good chance that my “helper” is a super-nice person in real life and just didn’t come across well in a discussion thread. But somehow, I don’t think they’re quite as expert as they might be making out.

It’s an interesting challenge for those of us who seek help on forums. There will be times when the person “helping” actually knows less than you do. Which can be a bit scary if you have to rely on resources like this to get help when something breaks!

The Kraken Stirs (Kraken, Part 1)

Back in May, 2013, I enlisted the help of local PC specialists, Rapid PCs, in the building of what became my current gaming system. Based on a quad core i7 Processor, 16Gb of RAM and an nVidia GTX 680 graphics card. In the interval since then, the system has been upgraded twice. Firstly I replaced the original GTX680 with a GTX 980.

Then, a couple of years later, I added a third monitor to this machine, and that took me through an upgrade that included replacing the original Gigabyte motherboard with an MSI alternative, the original 4-Core Core i7 with an Extreme Edition 6-Core i7 and the GTX980 with a 1080.

Good as this is, I’ve reached the point where the latest crop of AAA game titles can stress even this platform. Driving the 5760×1200 resolution of this triple-screen setup is pretty demanding… So: upgrade…

My original plan was to replace the Xigmatek Elysium with a CaseLabs Magnum STH10,  a remarkable, US-built case with a huge range of configuration options. Then the US decided to impose trade tariffs on aluminium imports and, surprise surprise, CaseLabs went bust.

Enter Thermaltake, and their WP-200 case. This is nothing short of a monster. For a start, it’s huge. Try: 878 x 475 x 678mm – nearly 3 feet tall, 18 inches wide and about 26 inches deep. It’s also *solid* – it ways more than 39 kilos or 86lb, empty.

Not quite as light as the CaseLabs model, this is, nonetheless, absolutely fantastic – even more flexible. It’s too early to commit to a final configuration at this early stage, but the general idea will be a top-of-the -line processor, a pair of the latest 2080 generation GPUs in SLI, and enough water cooling so that this won’t be too stressed.

The first part of the process has been to construct the plinth. Current thinking is that this will be used to contain the power supply and also a couple of radiators and the pipework necessary to connect them to one of the two GPUs. It’s possible – some experimentation will be required – that this can be assembled with relatively quick-release connectors [drip-free in the case of the radiators] so that the upper and lower parts of the case can be separated, for easier transportation… That’s going to need some experimentation, which is always a good idea – and quite often fun, too…

The Kraken stirs.

Well, That Was Close! (Part 2)

Having just about recovered from nearly trashing my email setup, I was left with a problem. The machine I use 90% of the time [using it to type this] was running the older Mint 18.3, with a version of Claws-Mail I could not use any more… What to do? Well, the obvious answer was upgrade Mint to 19.0…

And to do this, the Mint Team have produced a helpful and very short, slick automated upgrade utility. So I downloaded and launched it, but the first thing it wanted me to do was to perform a local backup, using “TimeShift”, the integrated system backup utility. I tried. Unfortunately, my system was demanding 19.4Gb of space for a single backup – and the largest ext4 partition on my system is 16Gb. Ain’t gonna happen.

Still… the process looked pretty easy. What could possibly go wrong???

Um: everything? At first the update went very smoothly… All files downloaded and checked out. I ran all the “test” scenarios and saw no issues being flagged. All looked good. But when it came to the “point of no return”: disaster. The upgrade process got itself into a loop because of unfulfilled dependencies and eventually crapped out on me.

Bother.

This particular machine happens to be a system that dual boots with Windows 10… I needed to have this working properly. Nothing to it, then, except to upgrade the old fashioned way, by using installation media and over-writing the 18.3 system from scratch.

A process which blew up on me just as it was attempting to write the boot-loader [the system startup file] to disk. And, just to make me happy, it did this in a way which trashed not just the Mint system, but Windows 10, too.

Dead system. Deceased. Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch. You get the idea.

Oh crap: now what? Well, it turns out that I wasn’t the first to have this issue with grub. Mint spotted the problem and updated their ISO file… I was trying to use v1, not the later v2. So: boot to another machine; download the v2 image file; attempt another installation using v2 and…. I have a fully recovered, fully working machine.

In fairness, if that had failed, I could have recovered with a complete wipe of the entire SSD, a re-install of Windows 10 and then a clean install of Mint 19.0. But, with much of the licensed software on the Windows image having number-of-installation restrictions, I really didn’t want to have to do that if I could avoid it.

Thanks, Mint Team, that was close.

And: I know trouble comes in threes… but I think two scares is entirely enough for me to be getting along with for now. Thanks.

FootNote:
I dropped a brief email to Tony George, the author of the Timeshift archive utility, to ask him if there was something I was doing wrong that prevented the utility from “seeing” the NTFS partition contained on this particular machine.

It turns out that Timeshift needs and uses meta-data that it obtains from the ext4 file system. NTFS literally doesn’t store the attributes that Timeshift needs, hence Timeshift can’t work with NTFS volumes.

Good to know, although I now need to decide if I’m going to replace the single large NTFS volume in this machine with a pair at half that size, one still NTFS and one as ext4. It kinda makes sense.

Well, That Was Close! (Part 1)

As a user of Mint Linux for many years now, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the upgrade process needed to switch between successive versions.

So when Mint 19.0 was released, the first thing I did was drop a spare SSD in to my PC and install a copy. Effortlessly easy process [done in under 15 minutes] and with a very slick, polished result. Except. One of the applications I tested happened to be my email client of choice, Claws-Mail.

Obscure, old-fashioned in the extreme, this client can’t even handle proportionately-space fonts, never mind HTML or any embedded content. It won’t even launch helper programs to handle attachments without being specifically told what to do. So why use it? Simples: it’s absolutely bullet-proof secure. There isn’t a lot of damage you can do with simple text files – and anything that isn’t simple text is just ignored by Claws.

So I tested Claws under Mint 19 and it worked like a charm. But when I went back to my regular desktop and tried Claws under Mint 18.3, I got an issue whereby any time I tried to do anything, I had to re-enter account passwords. Ulp.

Knowing that I’d allowed the upgrade to 19.0 to make some kind of unknown change to my shared config files, I found my way to the #claws IRC channel and asked politely for help.

Step up the awesome Ticho, who wasn’t just incredibly patient with me, but also had extraordinarily detailed knowledge of the workings of this mail program. The fix required me to back up my key mail folders, make some manual changes to a critical configuration file, then switch permanently to the newer version of Claws that ships with Mint 19.

All told it took an hour or so to fix, but the process was never especially “dangerous” and was completed without so much as a hiccup.

Eternally grateful to Ticho for their wonderful assistance – and, best of all, I am free to carry on using Claws Mail.