Dell Inspiron 3050 Ultra Small Form Factor Computer

I got a base Dell 3050 with a 32gb SSD, 2gb of ram and a 2 core Intel Celeron J1800 (2.41ghz 2 cores, 2 threads, 10w TDP) processor for $80 (after rebate), including windows 10. This is an ultra small form factor computer, 131mm by 131mm by 52.5mm. I bought it because it was quite inexpensive, expandable and it had good I/O. The ram is expandable to 8gb. The 32gb SSD is a m2 form factor and can be replaced. There is room inside for a 2.5" notebook sata drive and a sata II interface for it. The I/O includes one usb3, three usb2, HDMI, display port, gigabit Ethernet, audio, 802.11ac, Bluetooth and a SDXC card reader. The J1800 CPU is quite slow, sorta like a faster version of the raspberry pi 3. You need to be quite patient. I strongly recommend avoiding this slow CPU and getting a faster CPU.

According to the Energy Star web site, it idles at 6 - 6.7 watts, which is significantly more power than a raspberry pi 3, and has a small fan which is a bit on the noisy side. However, you can run standard windows 10 as well as a wide variety of other operating systems such as linux. The raspberry pi has a funky boot system, and a really crappy I/O system. The micro SDHC card is limited to around 20mb/sec. Other than the wireless, the 4 usb 2.0 ports and the 10/100 ethernet all interface to a single usb 2 port on the chip. The 3050 has a m2 SSD with a measured read speed of 281 mbytes/sec. The 3050 also has a sata III port, gigabit ethernet, and a usb3 port. That is substantially better I/O than the Pi 3.

The Dell 3050 does not come with a cable for the sata drive. Calling tech support was a waste of time. They told me a variety of lies, including a 'desktop' 2.5" drive was different from a 'laptop' 2.5" drive. They also told me no cable was needed, just mechanically mount the 2.5" drive and it will magically work. I would avoid Dell tech support. Dell accessory sales was almost as bad. Even though I knew the Dell part number (0HM06J), the first time they charged me $1.99 for a standard sata cable with a right angle connector. Only after several phone calls, and speaking to a supervision in sales, did they finally ship me the correct cable, which they didn't charge me for. The cable is more like an internal laptop cable, and is about 2 inches long. One end has an unified SATA data and power connectors. The other end is flat and somewhat flexible and attaches to a proprietary connector on the motherboard. It was a bit fussy to screw in the hard drive and connect the cable to the motherboard, but it worked the first time.

I recommend tossing the 32gb SSD, as it is tiny and pretty slow (writes of 90 mbytes/sec). It is enough for a simple linux distro, but pretty marginal for windows. I also recommend getting more than 2gb of ram. It will work for very basic tasks, but memory is pretty cheap, with 8gb being available for around $25-40. I put in a 500gb western digital hard drive which was a pull from a dell laptop. I installed linux on it, and ran all of the updates. It was quite a bit faster than my Raspberry Pi 3. I will make some measurements on it real soon now, bur for now it uses less power than any other x86 computer I have.

The good news is the 3050 works great with Windows 10. The bad news is using Linux, the mean time to failure is roughly 24 hours. It turns out there is a problem with the Intel Bay Trail processors hanging. If you disable most power saving features, it doesn't hang, but it uses lots of power, and will likely reduce the processor life. It is unclear exactly where the blame lies, but I blame Intel for not providing working power management (or at least decent documentation) for their processor. Intel knows about the issue, see Intel Communities for details. Fortunately, this problem was eventually fixed. So the computer works file with Linux.

I tried to install a 2.5" SATA SSD in the 3050. I used a Samsung 850 EVO. For some reason, I could not install Windows 10. I was able to install Linux. I eventually used a 2.5" SATA rust drive with no issues. I exchanged the Samsung 850, thinking it was a hard drive issue. It was not. I used the replacement EVO drive to install Windows and Linux on another computer. I think there may be an issue with SATA SSDs, or perhaps the EVO and some firmware in the 3050. The rust drives work great in both of my 3050s. I really wish the SSD worked, as the rust drive combined with the slow CPU means the computer is pretty slow.

The J1800 has one serious issue, other than being really, really slow. Running Windows, if you turn off the display (at least the one connected via Display-Port), when you turn the display back on you get one of thee results. Sometimes, the display is fine. Sometimes the display resolution will switch to 640x480, and you can't fix it without rebooting. Sometimes the display will display a blank desktop, and the mouse and keyboard seem to have no effect. The only solution for this is to power cycle the computer. I have yet to have any issues running Linux, so I am pretty sure this is a display driver issue. I have never had this display driver issue with any AMD or Nvidia GPU, so I am pretty sure this is related to the Intel HD video driver. The driver date is 2015. I tried updating it with windows, but I was told I had the latest driver. I tried to update this using the 'dell support assist', but it said there were no driver updates. I went to the Intel web site, and I was able to get a driver from Oct 2019. It has the same issue. So I am blaming Intel for having a crappy video driver. There is no excuse for this.

On my 4k monitor, the Intel graphics can set the resolution to 1920x1080. It can also set the resolution to 2560x1600, but not to 2560x1440. 2560x1600 is 1.333 times 1920x1200, which distorts the screen. On other hardware, I can set the resolution to 2560x1440. I have the latest Intel graphics driver. This is an Intel software issue, but since the graphics is integrated into the 3050, it is a bug that I can't easily work around. Not ideal

Dell / Wyse 5070 Thin Client

I got a good deal on a Dell / Wyse 5070 Thin Client. This comes with THisOS although you can install whatever OS you want. The CPU is a Celeron J4105 'Gemini Lake' which has 4 cores, 4 threads and a TDP of 10 watts. The CPU is passively cooled via a heatsink with a heatpipe as well as a thermal pad that attaches the heatsink to a metal plate on the inside of the case wall. It idles at about 50C. Under 100% CPU load I have seen the temp get up to 76C. It comes with 4gb of ddr4 ram and a 16gb emmc. There are two display ports which are powered by Intel UHD 600 graphics and will do 4k 60Hz each. There are 5 usb 3 ports, one usb-c port, and 2 usb-2 ports. There is gigabit ethernet and Intel AC 9560 2x2 AC wifi. There are two dimm slots that will support up to 32gb total. There is a M.2 slot for a SATA SSD. The 5070 is totally silent, as there are no moving parts. The higher end CPU is the J5005 which is a tiny bit faster. The 5070 is 74% faster than the raspberry pi 4 and is much more expandable. The 5070 is 2.9 times faster than my older Dell 3050. I considered the Hardkernel Odroid-H2, which is a bit more expensive though it has NVME M.2 vs SATA M.2 as well as dual 2.5 gig ethernet vs one gig ethernet. It also has dual SATA ports. It is a bit more expensive, and perhaps less well supported.

Running windows 10, sometimes I get no video. This was really bothering me. It turns out there are two display ports, and sometimes the working display switches between them. What that means is the display port that was working for no obvious reason stoops working (under windows, though it works during POST). Switching the DP cable to the other DP port 'fixes' the issue. This has never happened using Linux. I am 99% certain this is a windows display driver issue, either with windows itself, or with the Intel display port driver. I can't really blame Dell for this, other than using hardware with crappy drivers.

Gateway 2000 p120

My computer started its life as a Gateway 2000 Pentium 120 computer. Gateways prices are not the very best, but their service is top-notch. I have had two keyboards and a floppy drive fail, and Gateway replaced them under their 3 year parts warranty. I have called their tech support many times, and they have been very helpful. I would strongly recommend them, as I value their support.

They are not perfect however. I have a tower case, and I bought 2 Seagate Barracuda 2 gig SCSI drives. These drives run pretty hot. I installed them in my case, and noticed the drives surface temperature was about 100F. I called Gateway, and they told me their tower case could support many hard drives, and not to worry. I installed an additional 2 case fans, as well as a Pentium heatsink/fan on each drive. This kept things from melting. I ended up buying a real case (see below).

My updated Gateway 2000 p120

The Pentium 120 seems pretty fast when it was new, but times change, and so does software. I decided to splurge on a dual Pentium pro system. (As an aside, the way the gateway/Intel motherboard finally died. When it was powered up a chip literally smoked, leaving a crater on top of the chip, exposing the die. The cpu still works fine.)

My computer started its life as a Gateway 2000 Pentium 120 computer. I have since changed the case, the motherboard, the processor, and most other parts. I now have The Intel PR-440FX (Providence) Motherboard , with two Pentium Pro's (rated at 166MHz with 512k cache) running reliably at 200MHz. This motherboard has on-board Adaptec UW SCSI, Ethernet and 16bit FM synthesis sound. The UW SCSI isn't very useful because there is only one 68 pin connector. Since most of my devices are narrow SCSI, I would need an adapter for each one. I have 320 mbytes of ECC EDO memory, which has been plenty so far. I finally got my first parity errors, after about 2 years.

Parts

Video
I have a Number 9 Revolution 3D 4mb WRAM video card.

Drives
I have a 40 gig Maxtor diamond max plus UDMA-66 drive, which I am running at 16mbytes/sec as that is all the providence motherboard supports.
I have a 60 gig Western Digital 7200 RPM drive, which I am running at 16mbytes/sec as that is all the providence motherboard supports.
I have a 80 gig Maxtor diamond max plus UDMA-66 drive, which I am running at 16mbytes/sec as that is all the providence motherboard supports.
a 9 gig quantum atlas IV ultra 160 SCSI drive,
and a 4 gig UW barracuda drive,
I have a 2 gig Seagate hawk drive (from my Gateway),
a old 411 mb Seagate drive,
and a 2 gig Seagate barracuda 1" W drive.
I also have a Plextor px-4220 cd rom rewriter drive (SCSI) and a
Pioneer x10 DVD drive
and a HP DAT-8 drive (which replaced the broken Sony SDT-5000 drive.

Modem
I sold my old US Robotics Sportster 33.6 modem (like a fool), and I now have a US Robotics V.90 Sportster Voice modem, which doesn't work reliably with v.90 Livingston Portmasters, using the latest USR BIOS as of Dec-30-1998). Sound
I got rid of my soundblaster 16 ISA card, since I only had one ISA slot on my new motherboard and it was for my modem, and bought a Creative Ensonic AudioPCI, for cheap.

CPUS
The Pentium Pro 166 MHz has a significant advantage over most other Pentium Pros. All of the 166's have 512k of cache. Most 200 MHz PPro's have only 256k of cache. While running at 200 MHz, lots of heat (up to 38 watts per CPU) is generated. I have found a effective way to cool these CPU's.

CPU COOLING
PPro coolers are getting hard to come by. I bought heatsinks from All Electronics which happen to be designed for the PPro, made by Aavid, for $1.25 each. These heatsinks are 1 inch high, and completely cover the PPro. I actually bought 4 of them, because each one comes with a clip for the CPU, and I wanted to use two clips per CPU for extra security. I also bought temperature sensing cooling fans from ComputerNerd. These fans are 60mm*60mm*23mm, and flow up to about 20cfm. This heatsink and fan cool my PPro 6 to 10F lower than the coolers that came with my system. When it is 70F ambient, the hotter CMU is around 90F (measured on the hot part of the heatsink).
I also have the heatsinks that my CPU's came with, which suck, as well as some lesser 60mm fans, as well as some monster 1.5" high PPro heatsinks, that I have decided I don't need for now.

Gateway 2000 6400

Well, the dual Pentium pro 200 was great in its day, but its day also has come and gone. I got a screaming deal on a ASUS CUR-DLS motherboard which came inside a Gateway 2000 6400 server. This is a real business class server which is designed for 24x7 operation. First, you get first rate Gateway support, where I have found quick and good support (except for the BIOS losing its memory every so often). Second you get a real server case. It can be adapted to be a 4U chassis if you buy some adapter plates. It has a 120mm intake fan which blows directly on the hard drive bays (which are mounted sideways, so no cables get in the way of airflow). It has a 120mm exhaust fan which is mounted near the cpu(s). This alone makes the case much better than the usual cases. What makes it really stand apart is the substantial air intakes in the front, which allow a serious amount of air into the case. It is second to none in air intake. In addition, the front panel has the usual lights and buttons. What is unusual is that there is a single multi-pin connector that connects to the motherboard. This makes it trivial to connect the motherboard, though putting a new one in would require a bit of hacking. All the wires are well laid out and don't get in the way of air flow.

HP Zbook Studio G3 Nnotebook

This is a 5 year old laptop. Even though it is old, it is a very powerful laptop. It comes with 32gb of ram, a 1tb sSD, an i7 mobile processor, and a 4k 15" screen. It has a reasonable complement of ports, including HDMI, gigabit ethernet, and a bunch of USB ports. The battery is build in, rather than externally accessible. The battery started discharging when the laptop was turned off. Recently, it would not charge at all. I ordered a generic replacement battery, specifically designed for the Zbook. I needed to remove about 10 t8 screws, and 6 Philips screws to replace the battery. Unfortunately, the battery refuses to charge, and the BIOS says the battery is not a genuine HP battery. Apparently the corporate HP laptops have some kind of chip or authentication built into the battery. If the BIOS doesn't authenticate the battery, it won't charge it. One would think that a generic battery would have some compatible authentication method, but they don't. I did some searching and found that HP had a battery recall on this laptop. I called HP and they said based on my serial number that the laptop may be subject to the battery recall. They said they would contact me in 2 or 3 days and let me know if it was subject to recall, and if so they would send out a battery, and a service tech if needed to replace the battery. I was pretty impressed, but a bit baffled that they couldn't look up the serial number and tell me if the battery was recalled. After 5 working days, I called HP and they had no news. After another 3 working days I called again, and they still had no news. After another working day, I called, and they knew nothing. I am pretty sure the battery should be recalled because it died and won't charge. However, HP has yet to get back to me. It has now been 11 days since I contacted them. I cannot recommend HP due to the inability to determine what parts are in their products and if they are subject to recall.

Raspberry Pi 3B

This has 2.4ghz wifi and a 64 bit CPU. It uses the ARM cortex A53 instruction set. Only 1gb of memory, 10/100 ethernet, four USB 2 ports, no USB 3 ports, one HDMI port that supports 1920x1080. There is no reason to buy one today, when the 4B is available. With a small heatsink (roughly 20mm x 20mm x 10mm), it idles at 55C. Under load the temperatue is 71 C. When using a 64 bit OS and apps, it is about 4% slower, based on my benchmarks.

Raspberry Pi 4B 4gb

I bought a raspberry pi 4B with 4gb of memory. It uses the ARM cortex A72 instruction set. I also bought a heatsink that covered the entire pc board, because I had heard that the pi runs hot. The Pi 4B is much improved from pervious pis. It has a dedicated gigabit etherner port. The pi 3B+ has gigabit ethernet, but it was shared with the usb for bandwidth. The pi 4B alas has usb3, dual micro hdmi (and if you use only one, you can run 4k 60hz). It also has dual band wifi. Most important, the pi 4B can be had with more than 1gb of ram. It also supports microsd cards bigger than 32gb. Also the microsd interface is much faster. The base 4B now has 2gb and retails for $35, which is a great deal. My 4gb version cost $55. Raspberry now has a 8gb version for $75. I tried a variety of 64 bit operating systems. All were slower than 32 bit OSs. All were quite fussy. I tried fedora, ubuntu, kali, opensuse, and gentoo. I cannot recommend any of them. The raspberry pi foundation has finally decied to support a 64 bit version of raspberry pi OS (which is now in beta). This is a good thing as the pi 3B came out 4 years ago, and has a 64 bit instruction set.

The 4B is much faster than previous pis. Using my personal benchmark, it is 3 times faster than a 3B. It also runs much hotter. I have applied all of the firmware updates to the pi. With the big heatsink but no fan it idles at 42-44 C. Under load it runs at 65 C (just CPU, no GPU load). The 5ghz wifi doesn't work very will when the entire board is covered by a heatsink. An external antenna would be very helpful. The power comes in via a usb-c connector, which is a big improvement over previous pis which used a micro usb connector. When using a 64 bit OS and apps, it is about 50% slower, based on my benchmarks.

If you have comments or suggestions, Email me at turbo-www@weasel.com

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