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Adventures of a Computer Geek

I’m writing this because I had mentioned I was into computers before. When I tell people this, they usually ask if I code, which I don’t. I used to dabble in coding when I was a teenager – I programmed mainly in BASIC and assembler for the x86. It was great fun as my best friend at the time and I would develop silly programs and compare them. Perhaps at some point, I’d like to get back into coding. Lately, I’ve experimented with Javascript. It’s a fun language because it’s pretty easy to learn and you can see the results immediately without having to compile, as the code is interpreted directly in the web browser.

So what exactly do we mean by computer geek then? Well, I’m into system administration stuff. I have a home lab. On the hardware side, it’s nothing spectacular. I don’t have a rack-mount setup with a used corporate server. That would be quite cool. Instead, I have an old 2010 Mac Pro. Yes, I know – my hardware is 12 years old as of this writing, but I think that’s quite impressive as it still works and serves its purpose quite well.

The “cheese grater” in all her glory

In 2017, I found her here in Istanbul at a computer store which sells used and refurbished Apple hardware. I probably paid too much, but as soon as I set my eyes on this beast, I fell in love and I had to have it. I don’t regret having bought her. Not one bit. I traded my new Mac Book Retina as well as a Mac mini that I had. The Mac Book Retina turned out to be a horrible machine anyway – butterfly keyboard and a screen prone to delimitation. I missed a bullet there. It would have been nice to keep the Mac mini, but ah well – it was a 2014 anyway. Not upgradeable, except for the hard drive. It was that all-aluminum chassis with its futuristic looking design that drew me. It was also the hardware inside – dual Xeon hexacore processors and 32GB of ram as well as 4 SATA drive bays! This computer can support a total of 6 SATA devices. I was in awe of its power. 12 cores with hyper threading! Wow, that meant 24 cores in total, running at 2.66ghz!

What was I going to do with this beast? Initially my ambitions were quite low. All I wanted at the time was a rig that I could put a decent video card in so I could play Civilization 6. The Mac mini would play the game, but its performance left a lot to be desired. I knew that if I could get my hands on a system with a proper PCIe bus, I could acquire a half-way decent video card and really enjoy the game. I sprung for an Nvidia 1050Ti. Probably paid too much for that video card as well, as everything in that shop was a bit overpriced. In addition to the Nvidia, I also added a USB 3.0 card because this system, being as old as it is, only supports USB 2.0.

Even though my apartment was 800 meters away from the shop, I still had to get a taxi to haul this beast, as it weights at least 25 kilos. She’s quite heavy and unwieldy to lift. I carried her up four flights of stairs and plugged her in. After switching her on and hearing that sweet boot chime, I was booted into MacOS High Sierra, which was loaded onto a 128GB SSD. That’s when my problems began.

At first, the video was slow and laggy. The guys at the shop didn’t do their homework and install the correct driver. The overall experience was sluggish and disappointing. Not all of the memory was showing up. After fiddling with the ram, I got the memory to show up. I turned my attention to the drivers, and in the process I decided to reinstall the operating system. That’s when I ran into a big problem. You see, Macs use UEFI to POST (Power-On Self Test) instead of BIOS. This basically means that the video card’s ROM needs to be flashed to an Apple-specific image in order for the computer to initialize the video card. This isn’t normally a problem because once the system POSTs and loads the OS, the video card is initialized. However, if you want to boot off a different media, such as a USB stick with the MacOS installer, you are screwed. All you see is a black screen and no way to choose the correct drive. I had to take another trip to the shop and spend a little more money.

In order to get to the boot screen, I needed to buy an Apple-specific video card. At first, I thought it would be great if I could get a card equivalent to my Nvidia with the proper ROM. No dice. All the Apple cards were old and wouldn’t work with Civ 6. I had to buy a second card. I opted for the cheap GeForce GT120, which is the base model video card that Apple included with this computer. The shop was happy to sell it to me for about 300tl, which back in 2017 was nothing to sneeze at – I believe with the exchange rate then it was close to $100USD. Let’s just say it was kind of annoying. Another thing that was annoying was that this card didn’t have an HDMI output so I had to use a dongle. Fortunately, it was included.

Nvidia GT120, a crappy video card

Now that I had the required video card needed to select a different boot device, I set out to reinstall MacOS and configure my system correctly. I had to do a bit of research into how to get my 1050Ti to work properly, but once I figured it out, the solution was quite simple – the Nvidia web driver. Turns out that the technician at the shop installed the wrong driver, and once I solved that issue, the system performance was great! I was so excited, and of course the next thing I did was install Steam and download Civilization 6. I felt a little foolish though, realizing I had just spent a ton of money so I could play one video game. However, I did enjoy myself until I eventually got bored. I wondered what else I could do with this system, and that’s where the adventure begins.