The Fantastic Machines!

Web site and contents by Lloyd Garrick

You wouldn't believe it - most of the hardware I'm using for this project is from the last century! Fractint runs in DOS, so it can be DOS 6.x or the Win9X DOS which is 7.x (I think). So these machines are running either DOS itself or Win98SE, which is configured to boot directly into DOS. Typing "win" at the command prompt brings up WinDoZe, from which I can do editing and other things, then exit back down to DOS to run fractint.

And DOS (OS and apps) runs good with pentium-III and below, not so good with current hardware. These are my old machines from way back when, I thought I would put them to use other than doorstops; a couple I rescued from the computer shelter and gave them new life.

Here is a P3-800 system I got from a computer junk dealer. He couldn't guarentee anything so I picked it up for $40. After replacing the hard drive and a couple IDE cables, and a few other little things, I got it up and running. The CD and USB ports do not work, the floppy is barely functional. So I have no way to load WinDoZe, it is only DOS.
A close up shows the case is wrecked also, so it is left wide open. And - what is that!? Yes - a ZIP-drive from the last century! It is the only way I can transfer files. This junkpile in front of my main room window on the floor is actually the fastest rendering of the 4 machines I have dedicated to this.

Another save from the junkpile - this emachine 400 did not work. After working on it a bit I discovered a not-so-uncommon problem. Bad power supply. But it was too old and I couldn't buy a new one with the right form factor!
So I retrieved a spare PS I had in my "A+ repair kit", hooked it up and got it running. But it can't fit in the case so here is another system left running with it's guts half hanging out. Who cares? It works! This is #3 in terms of rendering speed.

My best and most recent system, a dual core Athlon-64 from Alienware. It is the fastest fractal rendering - exactly 4X better than the P3-800. But this is primarily for games and other hi-end multimedia stuff, I only do a little fractint with this cause I don't wanna risk burning it out. It has WinXP media edition which totally sucks with fractint or DOS, so I created a FAT32 partition in the HD and boot up with a DOS boot CD.
FlatOut2 is the best viddie game I have ever played. I also have other games, mostly driving and space-shooters. I don't like FPS or strategy games which seem to be most of the market now.

A Gateway P2-300 on the left, an Alienware P3-733 on the right. These have served me faithfully for 11 and 9 years respectively, although they are both upgraded with memory, cooling, video and sound cards, and a few other things. Relative fractal rendering speeds are #4 and #2.
I also use them occasionally for old games which are still good! Some of my favorites are Carmageddon, Descent, Motorhead, Driver, Star Wars, Terminal Velocity, and above all - AvP !

Finally, my P4-3GHz dual core from Gateway. I don't use it for animations, only still images and fractal exploration in preparation for the animations. Also for all the coding work and writing the script files. It is my main "work" system, used also for all the things normal people do with computers, like internet, study, work, etc.

12/26/08: The latest addition to my render farm! I needed another system for the current project, a deep zoom into the Mandelbrot Trench which requires very high iterations and the images take a L.O.N.G. time to generate!

It is a P3-933 / 133. Picked it up for $25 and all it needed was a hard drive. It is much faster than all my other systems except the Alienware Athlon-64 above.
These compact desktop business systems are so tight inside a cockroach would freak out. I got it up and running but it kept overheating and crashing out. Fractint running 24/7 maxes everything out - guess they just can't handle that - weren't designed for it. So I ripped out all unnecessary hardware including the CD drive and PCI riser, installed a new fan (the bridge chip(s) get real hot, like the CPU. They need a fan too!), and removed the drives from the bays so they could be external to the system. Now the MoBo can breath! I know it looks like Hell but it works - that's all I need.

Take note all you aspiring talented fractalnauts. If you want to get into this and you are using Fractint, the best fractal generator there is, it is an excercize in futility to run it on current XP systems - sometimes it works well, like on my Athlon, but usually there are problems, sometimes big, sometimes manageable. Vista does not work at all. Your best bet is to trek over to Action Computers (or whatever there is where you live), pick up a few legacy systems like these (often less than $100), tweak them up and running, and load DOS or Win9X so Fractint feels like at home.