Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Breaking and Entering

Well, the last week or ten days have been interesting on many a level; certainly, my absence has decried this observation, but the main issue with these pages laying fallow isn't completely my fault. It's the damn PC's fault.

Awhile back, I had done some basic upgrades to my home PC, a Dell Dimension something-or-other. It's a mid-size tower, which means that it's not a gargantuan beast but it fits neatly under my desk, albeit with a nest of wires, cables and other acoutrement filling out what little space lurks behind it. The upgrades involved a new internal hard drive and a video card.

The problem is that Dell, like many of the more mainstream PC manufacturers out there, builds machines for the masses, sort of like how Chevrolet builds their vehicles. They're meant, by and large, to be used for a finite number of years (roundly speaking, anywhere from 24-36 months) before they unceremoniously crap out like an epilectic on a garish lit-up disco dance floor.

My home PC, fortunately, didn't spasm uncontrollably as in the above example, but after losing two hard drives due to a combination of dust and heat -- the latter being the main culprit -- the PC went belly up all at once.

That means that everything in the mid-tower is toast.

Now that's not to say that's such an awful thing. I had virtually everything on the machine backed up in several places, knowing this day may come, so the only real data loss was stuff about which I really didn't care very much. But on the other hand, it meant I had to lug my notebook back and forth to do testing on the stuff inside to see which, if any of it, was salvageable and, more importantly, worth salvaging.

On top of that, I had to keep up with the work that I typically handle at night; work-related stuff that I don't always finish between working hours (ha!) and the miscellaneous other random minutiae that keep me in front of the computer when I'm not doing something I particularly enjoy.

On top of that, I had to find a new machine to replace this one, as most of the problem with this box was that the case was far too small to allow air to be circulated properly. The quick version: today's multi-core processors (Intel's Dual and Quad-core processors are under the model name "Xeon") essentially do twice (dual) or four (quad) times the processing in the same essential space that Pentiums (the prior model of Intel's PC-based processors) handled. That means they give off twice/four times the heat thereof. Add to that the higher capability of modern video cards and you have a lot more power -- both consumed and under the hood, so to speak.

In other words, it's like saying that a modern-day V8 is far more powerful, but uses shitloads more gas, than a Honda four-cylinder from the early '90's.

The problem is all that heat melts everything around it if not properly addressed. Thus: enter a new PC.

Problem is that I didn't want to buy another Dell; I've always used Dell for both home and office PC's but over the last several years, they've become as poorly-built and -designed as Gateways, Compaqs and IBMs. Before anyone gets offended by my description of their machine(s), please note that -- except for Dell -- all of the other companies I've mentioned above, for the most part, no longer manufacture PC's (yes, Gateway still does, but their stuff is awful and whereas they used to be #1 or #2 they're now #20 or lower in all PC categories).

Anyhoo, to make a loooong story short, I decided to build a PC. So I basically collected a list of components -- motherboard, case, CPU, RAM, storage, DVD drives, sound card, et al, and reviewed it with a friend who is even more of an uber-geek than me. He made some minor changes, and then between us we confirmed everything would work with everything else (both in terms of compatibility and in terms of physical space limitations). Sho'nuff, everything was/is good and once the goodies arrive, he'll swing by and we'll spend a couple hours getting everything together. That means we'll unscrew every part, put everything where it's supposed to go, screw everything back together and then hope nothing explodes.

I never did auto work when I was in high school; in fact, my high school never offered a "shop" class so there were no "grease monkeys" floating around those hallowed halls. But I've been tinkering with PC's for so long I can't remember back to when I was without a PC.

But that doesn't change the fact that building a machine is a lot different than tinkering with one. In any case, a good friend of mine will swing by and between us we'll connect the 25-30 case, power supply and motherboard wires together, get the motherboard/circuit board updated, and then we'll power everything on and hope for the best.

If you hear a loud boom sometime in the next few days, you'll know it didn't go so well.

More to come...hopefully ;-)


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