Garrett Fuller

Mint Machine

The Mint Machine is my "test" computer for Linux-based operating systems, currently Mint. This is an updated page on the machine, although not much has changed since this archived version was published.

The History of the Mint Machine

On October 8, 2010, a devastating fire consumed our old home. We lost everything, including my computer. The next morning, while staying with a relative at their house, a neighbor bought me the Acer AspireOne netbook. The following summer, my grandparents purchased the Mint Machine, as the netbook simply doesn't have the power to do anything but browse the internet.

The Mint Machine ran Windows 7 Home Edition originally. I used it to code my first websites (from scratch), and used it for every bit of four years until a misfortunate occurance happened. I also used the machine extensively to produce videos and store pictures, as it originally had a Seagate 1TB drive.

Failure and Repair

The Mint Machine suffered the same problem that many people have had with computers and I had with my first modern computer (a HP Pavilion from 2006) before it was devoured by fire. The mechanical hard drive had failed. Since I typically leave my machines running 24/7 (although I try to place them into "sleep" mode), the drives have no "rest" time.

Over a span of four years, time got even with the Seagate. The computer kept redirecting me into the Diagnostics Center in Windows, not a good sign. (The same thing happened on the HP Pavilion.) Blue screens became more and more frequent, and one day the system simply failed to find a disk. It's dead, Jim.

I didn't repair it at first, as I really wanted to try a Macintosh and this gave me a good excuse. Later, I was in a discussion with the former computer networking teacher at our local vocational technical school. She had a supply closet full of surplus parts which were nearly useless. While majority of the drives were IDE (the class was salvaging parts from old Dell machines from around 2000 or so), I found a couple SATA drives which were suitable. The drives were 40GB per unit. But hey, for the price, it was a fairly good deal.

Installation

I had the old drive out in no time. Removing the drive requires moving the power supply, as the main wiring harness is right in the area you need to access. No problem there, two screws and disconnecting all the wires was fairly easy. (There was one issue, however, that I will point out as a word of caution. When I went to remove the main power supply molex on the motherboard, it was stuck fairly well. I had to use a lot of force to pry it off. Try to avoid doing this. Applying too much force is not good on the motherboard. It can break the solder joints of adjacent components (turning a 5-minute project into a 5-hour project), or worse, you could crack the motherboard or the molex plug. In those cases, you'll be turning a $50 project into a $250 project with either a new motherboard, or spending lots of time soldering the connector back on. Not very fun.)

This is where the fun part comes in. I finally got the entire thing buttoned back up. The cables were routed nicely, and the power supply was all reconnected and tightened. The case cover was installed. Turning the machine on revealed, in BIOS, that one of the drives was not working.

After spending around an hour checking for loose connections, I determined the 2nd drive was stone cold dead. It wasn't even making an attempt to communicate with the motherboard. I removed it, and still have that drive as a "display" that I use when I teach people about the insides of a computer.

OS

Installing an operating system was going to be a tricky choice. I was limited to a free operating system, and wanted to try a Linux-based operating system. I narrowed my choices down to either Ubuntu or Mint.

The networking teacher was pointing out Mint to me. I saw her using it on a custom-built computer in her classroom, and was intrigued by it. I had someone burn me a copy (the Mint Machine is the only machine I owned at the time that featured an optical drive) and I installed it.

That pretty much brings us to the present time. Not much has changed. I installed a 250GB Western Digital as a "file" drive, while using the 40GB drive as a "OS" drive.

The case got a thorough cleaning in the summer 2015. The machine was about to be sold, but the buyer backed out. The machine was completely gutted, and the plastics received a bath and the mental base received its own bath.

That in itself presented some tough issues. Everything went back together, until I hit the front bezel. Of course, the last thing has to be the most difficult. I still have not got the front bezel back on, and probably will not place it back on until my upgrades are complete.

Future Upgrades and Plans (File Server)

My original plan was to turn it into a file or private web server. However, my needs did (and still don't) dictate a dedicated file server.

Thus, I was actually planning on selling the machine. I upgraded the total capacity of the machines storage to 290GB, with a 40GB SATA drive for the operating system and an additional 250GB drive for files. I also gave the machines plastics and case a complete bath, to clean out the dust.

I had a seller interested in the machine, but they backed out. Thus, I took the machine off the market and began adding my touches. Except that the project in plan never came to fruition.

About as far as I got was installing the second drive. I was going to install a second cooling fan to keep the machine cool, as the heatsink fan goes into "hyper" mode after you open up an application which barely warms up the processor. Sadly, the fan I got was the incorrect size, and I've never took much opportunity to open the machine up and get the proper dimensions.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the machine, especially since my senior year of high school will leave the machine sitting in storage. I may actually upgrade the machine with a bigger hard drive, possibly a high-end graphics card (it currently has Intel on-board graphics), and a bigger power supply to handle to load, and sell it. Who knows?

Update (10/20/2016): After an hour of searching, I finally got the MintMachine to run as a file server. There are still some issues which need to be sorted out, such as the "permanent" placing of the machine, and how its going to be fed. (My surge protector is already full, and the cord is just too short to reach the other electrical outlet, although that outlet is used a lot This is the problem with owning too many computers and not enough outlets..)

I used the "samba" method to get the computer to "talk" with my ThinkPad. I had some issues regarding passwords, and the MintMachine would claim the password I was entering into my ThinkPad to gain access to the files was incorrect. However, it was the correct password and username combination. Changing the password fixed this.

I actually have a use for a dedicated file server, due to an annual project that somehow when I wrote the first part of this page I completely forgot about. My ThinkPad's hard drive is quickly running out of space, and needs to be upgraded sometime in the near future (to either a 1TB or 500GB mechanical drive.) Until then, the files for this video project (which typically totals up to around 40GB of data, when including assets and video editing files) will be stored on the MintMachine and accessed/modified on the ThinkPad.

I tested the file sharing capabilities using MIDI files and converting to WAV using TiMidity++ in Terminal. (I typed all of the commands by hand, without a video output. But don't worry - I barely know my way around Linux and Terminal.) I must say that the file sharing speeds were faster than previously thought, as the files were stored on the 250GB Western Digital hard drive which serves as the slave. However, the keyboard which I use with the machine (the one which came with the XPavilion - with the legacy PS/2 keyboard port) is not all that great. I found that keys liked to stick, and in terminal that is just no fun.

I als installed Handbrake on the machine, which is another component required for the upcoming annual project. I previously ran Handbrake exclusively on the MacMini.

I also fixed the issue with the side panel falling off. Oddly enough, I had a "duh!" moment (it seems like those happen fairly frequently.)

Continuing Issues

The MintMachine is still from perfect, especially since it has been a while since I've actually bothered to do necessary repairs. Maybe it'll get buttoned up sometime within the next year?

The first issue is one that, from my experience, has plagued these older PCs, and as far as I know, there is no definite fix. (Although I have a theory of the cause.) When you plug a headphone or speaker into the audio outputs, you can hear noise being produced by the processor. My theory as to the cause is that there is no filtering for feedback possibly caused by the processor, as the noise changes pitch and volume when the processor is doing work. Perhaps bad filtering capacitors? (While this could be an explanation on the XPavilion, which I know has failing electrolytic capacitors, the MintMachine appears to have capacitors which physically look good. However, looks can be decieving. I'm not really too concerned to the point where I'm going to disassemble the machine - for the third time - to check each individual capacitor. It may also be in the power supply.)

The second issue is the case. I'm not a fan of plastic cases such as the one which this machine came with. The clips which typically hold the plastic trim in place are often thin, fragile plastic. If you put too much force on a clip, it'll go "SNAP" and there goes your hope of easily affixing the piece back into place. The MintMachine is no different. Getting the front panel off was difficult (necessary to remove the optical drive), but it seems as if putting it back on is even more of a chore. Positing the clips appears to be a difficult ballet of placing enough force to get it into place, but not too much force as to not snap the clips. From personal experience, I'm a bad enemy of plastic cases like this. You must also have this bezel in the correct position or else when it does finally snap on, the plastic mechanism will not be able to reach the power button and the optical drive eject button.

The third issue is related to the case issue: the power light. The power light/button assembly has four small wires which run through the case down to the motherboard. The issue is, the wires have been damaged over time. This is easily fixed with a soldering iron (in actuality, it may not be easy: the wires run down into the assembly, out of the reach of any soldering iron. Disassembly may be impossible without destroying the assembly. Currently, the power light fails to work and the machine will only power on if the assembly is in the right position while pressing the button.

Lastly, one USB port on the front was accidentally damaged by yours truly. Now plugging anything into that port will result in the dreaded "Short circuit on USB port" message. (Plugging anything into this port before booting the machine will result in the computer not passing POST due to the short circuit. The computer will then continue to power cycle itself until the fault is corrected.)

ASUS ESSENTIO SERIES (MINTMACHINE) - SPECIFICATIONS
Processor (with clock speed)

Intel Pentium @ 2.7GHz
fastest processor in my roster: although less efficient than my Core i5 @ 2.5GHz, in my ThinkPad T420

Memory (RAM) 4GB DDR3
Hard Drives
  • 1 40GB Western Digital from ~2003. Works fine, just small and old. (Used drive)
  • 1 250GB Western Digital (brand new.) Used as a "slave" and stores system files. (The volume is even named "Files")
Optical Drive

DVD-RW Burner/Reader Combo (was only one in my roster until the T420)

Graphics/Sound The graphics is on-board Intel integrated graphics. The sound is handled by the on-board RealTek sound chip.
Networking Cat 5e Ethernet
Display Out VGA, DVI, HDMI
Ports 8 USB ports (one damaged), 1 PS/2 keyboard port
Operating System Linux Mint (Rebecca)
Usage File server (for certain projects), "Mint Exploration Machine" (MEM), TiMidity++

 


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