Xbox clusters?

Robert G. Brown rgb at
Wed Nov 28 13:47:36 PST 2001

On Wed, 28 Nov 2001, Gary Jackson wrote:

> On Wed, 28 Nov 2001, Velocet wrote:
> >Why bother when for about $300 USD you can put together a
> >cluster node with a 1.333GHz athlon with 256Mb of DDR ram?
> Because you don't have to "pay" for assembly, or debugging the
> equipment, or anything like that.  You even get a 90 day warranty.
> With a self assembled beige box, it may take you 90 days to figure out
> which part is broken.

Surely you jest.

The systems I buy come with a lifetime labor warranty and typically have
a year parts warranty.  The vendor will assemble them for me basically
for free when I buy in bulk or maybe for $50 each if I'm buying only one
or two.  I generally buy the parts and build them myself in the latter
case to save the money.

With my trusty electric screwdriver, I can build a system out of
component parts in about 30 minutes, and so can pretty nearly anyone on
this list. Motherboard screws onto the case.  Drives screw onto rails or
into popout cages.  CPU snaps in, memory snaps in, cards snap in.  The
hardest single thing is the cabling -- gotta connect all these
itty-bitty lines from the case to the motherboard in the right places.
Power is simple.  Drive cables are simple.  Building a lego castle with
my sons is MUCH harder.  So is assembling a bicycle.

Maintenance is usually pretty simple.  The parts most likely to fail are
the drives (obvious), power supply, and the CPU/motherboard (also
obvious). When buying just one system, it does help to have a local
service department to play the swap game.  If you are buying fifty,
though, spending a few dollars more on a set of swap-em parts (or just
borrowing them from a known-good system) to determine what is wrong is
no big deal and almost never takes more than an hour or two of time.
Then, all the parts are >>cheap and readily available<< and one can
often fix the system entirely in times ranging from one hour to an
afternoon.  I'm also reasonably confident that I'll be able to fix the
system (for ever decreasing prices) through at least the first 3-5 years
of ownership before it becomes no longer worth it.

Now how, exactly, are you going to get an Xbox fixed after its 90 days
runs out?  Is it a bad CPU, dust on the CD drive, a crashed hard disk, a
bad power supply, a bad memory chip? No real OS, no diagnostics.  Nobody
this side of the factory with spare parts for at least part of what
could be wrong.  You'll end up either playing the swap game (if you are
lucky) with whatever parts inside are indeed commodity with even less to
go on than you might have with a real computer OR mailing it in for
depot repair OR throwing it away.  One round of depot repair will likely
cost half as much as the system itself -- $50/hour for labor plus parts
plus shipping both ways.  Throwing it away costs the whole system.
Fixing it yourself?

Well, which one would YOU rather fix -- a system you built yourself
designed to be expandable and easy to fix or a box deliberately
engineered to be "closed" to customers and ultimately disposable so they
can sell you more?

Just my opinion, of course...;-)


Robert G. Brown	             
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at

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