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Web Site Design with OS/2- by Tejaswi Kasturi


The Hardware

Hardware. The joy of the engineer and the programmer alike. No greater ecstasy can there be than having a smoothly running piece of machinery which quickly and efficiently gets our work done for us.

Well, there are greater joys, but having a good computer is pretty nice. For most of us, hardware is just the piece of metal, plastic, and silicon we use to get things done.

In this column I will examine the hardware I use, explain why I chose this equipment, and make recommendations for what to buy for your web site design Warp box.

What I Use

I have several computers, but only one is used for OS/2, and it also happens to be primary workstation, so I will concentrate on dissecting it. I put together this machine by buying parts and assembling them myself, which is not for most people, but is necessary if you want the absolute best machine for the absolute lowest price. Most of the hints can also be applied to buying off-the-shelf machines, if ye be faint of heart when tinkering with things electronic.

The CPU

Few things are more greatly exalted than the microprocessor, the brain of the personal computer. Few things are more overhyped either. Web site design (as well as most everyday work) does not rely heavily on the main processor. The only really processor-intensive programs these days are graphics applications, such as ColorWorks or Neon Grafix 3D, and games, such as Quake.

Any processor which would be considered entry-level today is sufficient for most web site work. I use an AMD K5-133 (which is actually running at 100 MHz), which I have benchmarked to be about as fast as a Pentium-125 (or it would be, if such a thing existed). It is perfectly adequate for my work, and I bought both chip and motherboard for less than US$150, a far cry from the US$500 Pentium-200 which is currently touted as a "midrange" processor but only offers about 30% speed improvement over my processor.

In all cases buy a processor with the highest bus speed, not the highest internal clock speed. For example, a Pentium-150 is usually negligibly faster than a Pentium-133, since the 133 has an external bus speed of 66 MHz, whereas the 150 is limited to a bus speed of 60 MHz. Thus all peripherals, including memory, run faster on the Pentium-133 system than on the Pentium-150 system.

The Memory

Do not skimp in this area. Few things will give you bigger bang for the buck, especially these days, with the extremely low prices on DRAM. Add as much as you can afford. 64 MB is the ideal amount of RAM for a Warp workstation, and I have this much in my machine. It keeps my swap file small and my system very responsive, even with many background tasks. Also, buy EDO or SDRAM, since prices are not much more than FPM DRAM, and performance is significantly better. You should be able to get 64 MB of EDO RAM for less than US$400.

The Hard Drive

Another area not to skimp on. Since you may want to run a web server on your workstation in order to test your creations, you need to have a very fast hard drive that can deal with the thrashing of both your browser and your server. I have an IBM 2GB Ultra Wide SCSI hard drive attached to an Adaptec AHA-2940UW. This combination is easily twice as fast as my (already quite fast) Maxtor 540MB Fast SCSI-2 drive, which was one of the fastest drives available when I bought it almost three years ago.

Do not buy cheap EIDE drives, and make sure your SCSI controller supports busmastering. EIDE and non-busmastered SCSI drives tend to be far slower in heavily multitasked environments, such as when running a web server and browser simultaneously. I have seen too many of these drives and controllers drag down even the fastest machines to mere humdrum levels. For example, a colleague of mine has a Cyrix 6x86-P150+ machine with an IDE boot drive, and my machine (at that point a mere Pentium-75), booted nearly twice as fast!

Also, I cannot overemphasize the need for reliable storage. Buy established brands, and the best drives in each category. I have been burned too many times by cheap, unreliable off-brands, and the loss of time and data is not worth it. Since your data is the most valuable part of the computer, do not entrust it to a cheap drive. I prefer Micropolis, IBM, and Maxtor drives. My seven year old Micropolis 160 MB ESDI drive is still humming along without a single surface error, a far cry from my Samsung 1.2 GB EIDE drive which died after a year! I estimate that your hard drive and controller should cost as much as the rest of your machine combined (without the monitor). My UltraWide drive and controller cost about US$650 combined, and were worth every penny.

The Graphics Card

Since most Web work will not deal with cutting edge graphics, a midrange graphics card is sufficient. Above all, make sure that the drivers are reliable and efficient, since they determine the worth of the card far more than the actual hardware. I used an Ark Logic 2000PV-based card for several months before I got fed up with the buggy, unstable drivers and replaced it with an S3 card. S3 provides fast, reliable drivers for OS/2, unlike Ark Logic, whose Warp drivers are on permanent hold. Crashes went down by an order of magnitude when I made the switch.

I currently use a Matrox Mystique 4MB SGRAM card, which benchmarks about three times faster than the S3 card. However, since I do little intensive graphics work, I have not really noticed a huge difference, other than the slightly increased resolution. The Mystique cost about US$140.

The Monitor

Buy as big a monitor as you can afford. Make sure the refresh rates are at least 70Hz for the resolutions you plan to run it in, or else your eyes will become quite strained. Do not buy cheap monitors, but do not spring for the very best either (unless you are doing detailed graphics work). I have a Panasonic Panasync/Pro P15 15" monitor, which I run at 1152x864 at a 70Hz refresh rate. I recommend either a 15" or 17" monitor for most web work, since they are the best values. My monitor cost about US$330, and decent 17" models go for about US$600 - US$700.

Other Peripherals

Buy a good mouse and keyboard which do not strain your wrists, fingers, and arms. I replaced my mouse with a Logitech Trackman Marble (US$55) when I noticed that my fingers were going numb after using the computer for several hours straight. Moving to the Trackman provided instant relief, and although it is not as accurate as a mouse, it provides adequate resolution for almost all applications. I still use my 7 year old keyboard from my 486 because I like the feel.

Ethernet cards are not very different from each other for low to moderate workstation traffic, so buy the cheapest one you can find which has OS/2 drivers. I have a cheap ISA bus card which I picked up for about US$30.

I have yet to find a modem which I like. My current model, a US Robotics Sportster 33.6 (US$130 when bought), is very poor at connecting reliably to my ISP. Although my old 14.4Kbps modem connected very reliably at 14.4Kbps, the Sportster often connects at 4800 bps. If you find a modem with reliability and performance above and beyond the pack, let me know.

Recommendations

Listed by importance to the well-being of your Web design workstation (what you should upgrade first):
  1. Modem - Get at least a 28.8Kbps modem if you want to do serious web work.
  2. The Hard Drive Subsystem - Buy Ultra, Fast/Wide, or UltraWide SCSI and a well known drive and controller. I recommend Micropolis, IBM, and Maxtor drives, combined with Adaptec controllers.
  3. Memory - Buy as much as you can afford. I recommend 64 MB EDO DRAM or SDRAM, 60 ns or better.
  4. Monitor - The thing you stare at all day should be pleasant enough not to cause eye strain. Get a 15" or 17" monitor capable of doing 1024x768 resolution at 75 Hz, or 1152x864 at 70 Hz.
  5. Graphics Card - Buy the card with the best drivers, not the best card with drivers. I recommend S3 (Virge) and Matrox (Mystique, Millennium) cards with at least 2 MB RAM.
  6. CPU - Get at least a P133 class processor preferably with a 66 MHz or better bus speed (price/performance leaders are the AMD K5-PR133, Cyrix 6x86-P200+, Intel Pentium Pro 150, and AMD K6-166).
  7. Peripherals - Get a comfortable keyboard and mouse. Buy a cheap Ethernet card with decent drivers.
Of course there are times when you should upgrade items lower on the list before items higher on the list. For example, if you only have 8 MB of RAM, increase it before upgrading your hard drives. Or if you are using a 486, move to a Pentium-class processor and motherboard before upgrading your RAM (since 486 motherboards usually use 30-pin memory modules, which are incompatible with Pentium motherboards).

Conclusion

I hope I have given you a taste of what things you should look for when upgrading your Warp web design workstation, and an overview of what is important and what is not when dealing with hardware.

Next time I will look at server software and utilities for OS/2 machines, useful for testing your web sites before deploying them. Until then, happy Warped webbing.


Tejaswi Kasturi is a Founding Partner in charge of web site/intranet design and system administration at 4th Millennium Consulting Group, an Internet strategy consulting and web site/intranet design firm. In his spare time, Tej uses OS/2 Warp 4 to maintain the OS/2 Internet Resources site, an OS/2 e-Zine! Site of the Week.

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