IT - Extreme Power PC Design

How to create the Ultimate Power PC.
Design suggestions on how to optimise your personal computer for the greatest speed,
reliability and resilience from logical or physical disaster.
How to create a computer workstation. Self-building a D-I-Y personal computer.

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Introduction

Date: 3rd, August, 2004

If you have an "unlimited" or big, budget and you want to build the ultimate computer for your personal or work use then the Extreme Power PC configuration is just what you need.

This is NOT based on the idea of just buying the fastest, most expensive equipment, but on arranging the load on your computer to take advantage of high performance and to spread the work across a number of components instead of letting all the be carried by a single potential bottleneck.

INTENTION

The intention of the Extreme Power PC is to allow you to achieve the fastest work performance from your computer, to arrange components against physical disaster and deal with the key logical disasters - outside intrusion.

BREAKDOWN - MULTIPLE HARD DRIVES

At the heart of your computer is your data and programming, your applications and your operating system.  Most likely you will have one or more versions of Windows operating system, but you may now be considering moving across to Linux in light of new costs and restrictions in the use of Windows, the increasing reliability of Linux and the fact that it is effectively free to buy and update.

The Extreme Power PC configuration works for both popular operating systems (sorry, I can't afford an Apple and cannot advise on that system).

What most people do not realise in using their computer is that they are using three different forms of data: the operating system, the applications and their work files.  Each of these makes a demand on the system.

In common practise under Windows all of this data is loaded in a default manner: the "C" drive. An alternative adopted by knowledgeable computer users is to split their hard drive into multiple partitions: sections of the memory on their discs which can act and will be treated as if they were separate discs, called "logical drives". 

This is a good way to manage and separate out information, especially if you want to make regular backups of key information.  By storing it on a separate logical drive you have easier access to your own work and applications, separated from the operating system, for backup and other maintenance purposes.

The Extreme PC takes this into the physical structure of your computer by splitting your three forms of data into two, three or more physical drives.  Instead of having three, or more, sections of one drive, you will have three entirely separate hard drives.  These drives will be dedicated respectively to: your operating system(s), your applications and your work

The advantage of splitting the data across three drives is that you are splitting the physical workload of accessing all that information.  Modern computers are growing bigger in the size of all three: operating systems, applications, and files.  With one single drive taking this load, no matter how fast it is, you will always have delays from the physical limits of that one device to access and load the necessary data into your processor and memory.  By splitting the load across several drives you increase the speed of reading and recording data to/from the drives.

The BIG BUS

No matter how fast your drives are the next step problem is the ability of the motherboard, memory and processor to deal with the throughput of information. This is where you need to select the right upstream components to deal - the motherboad, chip and memory.

Developments in both hard drives, drive connections and the core of the motherboard will always mean that you have newer and faster components to handle throughput.  This improves every few eyars with the advent of new updates to the heart of the computer including: hard drives, solid state drives and the data bus connectors, all offering increases in speed.  Add to this the maximum possible amount of memory (RAM), the latest processors and you have the prospect of enormous increases in data handling and work speed coming every few years.

SPECIALIST COMPONENTS

Although most modern and future motherboards will increasingly offer a range of improved features you can spread the core load further by adding specialist expansion boards to take some of the load off the core of the system.  The most common of these are graphics and audio boards. They can not only take a huge workload off the motherboard but expand the performance for the whole computer and improve your experience.  For example a high specification graphic card will allow you to use multiple screens and increase the visual experience, and do more work, enjoy more games, work and play at the same time, dominate the world, etc.

NOTE: when buying any components, especially the very latest designs, you should check beforehand to see whether they will work well with your operating systems.  Some manufacturers do not support all systems.  I recommend that you avoid such manufacturers until they change their ways.

REDUNDENCY

The Extreme Power PC is not only about speed of performance, but about surviving the usual (if you're a Windows user) disasters - bluescreen system crashes, viruses, even hardware failures.

The most critical element of your system is the data stored on your three or more hard drives and there are two forms of protection you need to incorporate into your power PC for safety, these are mirroring and disc imaging.

A mirror array uses features on some motherboards to operate an identical duplicate of your hard disc.  Every action on your No1 disc is mirrored, duplicated, at the same time on your No.2 disc. As I have already suggested that you will be running at least three hard drives for your operating system, applications and work files and a mirror means that your PC will now have up to six hard drives installed, three of which are an identical set of the other three.

An advantage of this is the when reading date form the disc the PC will read part of your date formone drive and part form the other.  This is another way to increase the reading speed of your PC.  Writing remains slower as it has to write simultaneously to both mirrored drives.

In the event that any one of your hard discs fail you only have to replace is with an identical spare and the computer will work automatically to rebuild the mirror from the surviving disc.  This give you total redundancy and immediate "live" backup.

BACKUP

An advantage of the mirror array is that it protects against physical failure, but it cannot guarantee protection against logical failure, especially if your computer is attacked by a virus.  This is where you need to make a regular backup of your system for removal to a safe location.

As an attack on your data can take many forms you need to look at the worst possible case and deal with that for maximum security.  This is the use of disc imaging.

A disc image is an exact copy of your hard drive, or a logical drive within your hard drive, copied to another location.

This image is a complete copy of all the data, structures, etc., of your drive, and allows you to restore the computer's data back to that point in the event of a critical disaster.

A disc image can be made to various destinations according to how you configure your PC.  The Extreme PC has two possible destinations for images: (1) to a removable spare hard drive, one for each of the primary drives that you have in your system, (2) an external hard drive connected to your PC through a very high performance link. 

High speed links have tremendous capacity to move all your information to a separate drive quickly and make good locations for this kind of backup.  The advantage of a removable hard disc is that is is a true identical copy of one of your current hard drives and could easily be used to reinstall the system from those drives with no need to restore from a separate external drive - just insert the backup drive in place of the failed drive. This does, though, mean that you will need to buy at least one spare set of drives to copy to on a regular basis.  if you wish to rotate your backups yet another set would be advisable.  You should now have several extra hard drives for your PC, six internal and more on rotating backup.

NOTE: disc images are made by specialist applications and they may have limitations in what they can use as a destination device, as a channel and may not be able to deal with different operating systems. 

RAID - ANOTHER SPEED DEMON!

I have mentioned the idea of multiple hard drives to spread the physical load and increase the speed of processing information.  Another form of this, albeit a little more complex and requiring a slightly higher skill, is the RAID (Redundant Array Of Inexpensive Discs) method.

Disc mirrors (above) are the first and simplest level of a RAID system, but there are more advanced methods at the height of which is the RAID 5 method.  In RAID 5 you are spreading the information and therefore the workload across several fast hard discs all at once. The key difference between RAID 5 and mirroring is that you can gain even higher speeds through RAID 5 but do not have the mirroring effect of 100% system backup, unless you install two RAID 5 arrays!

One advantage of a top-end RAID system is the ability to "hot swap" which means you can remove one failed drive and replace it with another while the machine remains in use.  All the data is spread across your whole array of discs with redundancy built in and you can restore all the lost data from one failed disc out of the redundancy stored in the others.  In the event of this you can reestablish your information in short order.

A RAID system is good if you want to maintain a very high level of speed and security over your system and make a good alternative form of Extreme Power.  The key disadvantage is the need to have and maintain the additional skills and RAID cards to manage all your discs.

TWO CHOICES

It's up to you which of these choices you adopt. RAID or mirrored key discs.  In both you have enormous speed and redundancy, in RAID you can restore your information and continue working without loosing time, in mirrored discs you have a guaranteed independent 100% backup of all data.

CONCLUSION

As you can see I have focussed on disc performance as the key to improving your PC to extreme levels.   Although additional components such as graphics cards will enhance some aspects of your machine discs are where your data is stored and increasing their performance and reliability is the key to creating the Extreme PC.  I am sure you will find your own ways to achieve this, with tweaking the components, arranging your data for greatest optimization, but the final conclusion to create the best possible performance is - don't rely on the common configurations provided by manufacturers.

Cheerio!  

Keys: extreme performance PC, RIAD arrays to improve computer performance, backup and failure strategies for the protection of PC data.

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