Dell Optiplex 745 USFF – small and dumb!

August 2, 2007

Some time back I picked up a Dell Optiplex 745 USFF with Pentium D960 processor cheap, with the intention of using it as my desktop machine. Colleagues tried to tell me this was misguided, but who listens to others? Turns out, it was a mistake for more than one reason. If you care, here is the tale of woe…

Firstly, the Pentium D960 processor. Yes, this 3.6GHz sucker it is as slow as you’ve heard. Floating point wise, it is no faster than a 3GHz Pentium 4HT, and is almost beaten by a 1.5GHz Pentium M. It’s pretty obvious why the Core 2 architecture was evolved from the Pentium M and the Pentium 4 has been left for dead.

OK, slow processor, but what else. Well, secondly, the DVD drive is only 8x speed. This may have something to do with the fact that it it is installed in a removable bay. Nice. I can see that removability being real handy. Meanwhile, writing a 3GB DVD for backup takes about 15 minutes, which is a pain.

But look at the case – it’s so nice and compact – surely the convenience of the small footprint on the desktop makes up for these (minor!) foibles? Well, that might have been so, except precisely because the case is so compact, the fan must be tiny, and yet it still needs to move a lot of air to keep that Pentium D madman cool. The upshot: you guessed it – noisy.

Alright, so there was some bitching and griping when all this became apparent, but eventually one moves on, and therefore starts to install Slackware. Ah, Slackware Linux, a bizarre blend of BSD goodness and SysV brain damage. But that is another rant. Slackware 11 was current, and this went on without too much drama. Configuration – no problem, until it came time to configure the video card.

You see, this thing has an Intel 965Q chipset, which is pretty recent, and wasn’t recognized by xorg 6. The plain frame buffer driver worked OK, but would not do the 1680×1050 resolution required by the widescreen monitor. There followed much fiddling of configurations, downloading and compiling of xorg 7 modules, more downloading of Intel driver modules, more configuration, copious and vigorous cursing, but finally there was a 1680×1050 image on the monitor. Only it was crap.

Now, this was a real eye opener.The DVI output was 1680×1050@60Hz, and the info menu on the monitor confirmed that that was indeed the case, and also said that this was its preferred mode, and yet the picture was fuzzy.

Well, in disgust, slackware was wiped, and XP installed from the recovery disk. After the umpteen mandatory reboots, the monitor showed a pristine windows XP desktop at 1680×1050@60Hz resolution, and STILL FUZZY!

Ah, but it is using the default graphics driver… A bit of a rummage around in the packaging, and I located the Intel drivers disk. Installed that, and bingo – crystal clear 1680×1050@60Hz.

After installing cygwin X, it makes an OK X terminal. A bit noisy though…