The Computer Situation

For those of you fascinated by the minutiae of my technological life, an update on these sorts of things:

1. The primary desktop computer is definitely dead, and I rather strongly suspect it’s the power plant. The plan at this point is to remove it from the desk, swap out the power supply and then hope it powers back up again because if it doesn’t it means the problem is likely the motherboard, and, well, then it truly is dead and off to be recycled. The good news is that a power source is a relatively cheap fix; the bad news is if it’s not the power source, then I’ve paid for a power source I don’t really have a use for. But, hey: I guess you never know when you’re going to need a spare power source. Heck, I could have used one yesterday, right?

2. The funny thing about it is in fact if my desktop could have chosen a time to give out, this really would have been it. One, I had just recently backed up all my data on archive drives. Two, I am currently between major projects, so I wasn’t really using the desktop for anything but cruising the Internet and playing games. Three, I had ordered a new computer anyway. Basically, it’s almost as if it said “my work here is done” and then died in its sleep (literally, since I was away for the weekend and Krissy had powered it down). Farewell, Mencken 6, we’ll miss you.

3. According to my FedEx tracking number, my new computer is on the truck and will be here by 4:30pm today, so it appears as if I’ll be spending my afternoon and/or early evening fiddling with the new computer, which, if you must know, is one of my favorite things to do. For you tech geeks, some stats on the new rig:

  • Intel® Core™ i7 950 Processor (4x 3.06GHz/8MB L3 Cache)
  • Motherboard: Asus P6T Intel X58 Chipset CrossFire and SLI Supported w/7.1 Sound, Triple-Channel DDR3, Gb LAN, S-ATA Raid, USB 2.0, 3-Way SLI PCI-E MB – 3-Way SLI
  • Memory: 6 GB [2 GB X3] DDR3-1600 Triple Memory Module
  • Video Cards: ATI Radeon HD 4890 PCI-Express x16 – 1GB – CrossFire Mode (Dual Cards)

Plus two 1TB hard drives, Blu-Ray reader/DVD burner, Creative X-Fi sound card and so on, with a Windows 7 free upgrade when it comes along later in the year. Basically, it’s not the top of the line for desktops (which would have cost twice what I paid for this), but it’s close enough to the top that I can see blue sky from here. Which works for me.

4. I thinking of undertaking an experiment with this computer, which is basically seeing how few programs I can store on it and still do everything I need to do. The computer comes with Microsoft Office 2007 as a trial program, which I’ll keep and plug my registration key into because I actually use Office enough for it to make sense to have it (sorry, Open Office and Google Docs, MS Office is still the starter). Everything else, however, I want to see if I can offload. I’m not hugely optimistic this plan will work, given how much I use Photoshop (which, of course I still have, along with all my other programs, archived away), but it’s worth trying to see how it goes. And in any event it will leave by new hard drives free for the important stuff, namely, video games.

Incidental to this, I have to say that one of the reasons I’ve been sanguine about my computer crash is that these days I buy almost all my games off of Steam, or play them via GameTap, both of which function online. What this means is that when my rig goes kerplooey, I don’t have to worry about searching for the install discs for the games I want to re-install; I just go to Steam/GameTap and reload them from there. I really like living in the future.

5. I will say this: It’s amazing how much more quiet my office is without the desktop fans running all the time. It’s kind of nice.

Update, 11:44am: Ooooh, new computer’s here. Off to set it up.

38 Comments on “The Computer Situation”

  1. Probably not worth fussing with the old computer; the power supply could have damaged other components when it went.

    OT: William Shatner giving a dramatic reading of Sarah Palin’s farewell speech.

  2. Did you find a desktop case that did not scream nerd? I vaguely remember you were looking for one like that…

  3. FWIW, I bless the creators of Steam daily. It’s not without its issues, of course, but having self-patching games makes me cry in appreciation.

    Congrats on the nice rig!

  4. Drool is falling down my chin after seeing your specs…. as a poor college kid all I have the money for is 2.66 Core 2 Quad, single HD 4870, 750GB hard drive, and eventually 6 gigs ddr3 ram but my motherboard comes with 2 so thats an upgrade for another time… At least this is just for a media center that can play games and not a gaming computer…

  5. That rig is pretty similar to the one I have: the i7 is a sweet processor. It’s such a nice thrill to open up the process manager and see 8 cores staring back at you. I splurged a bit on an NVidia card though, because I wanted to get a tiny bit more graphics power.

    One disclaimer — I haven’t had much success with DX10 yet. Probably driver issues — I formatted the factory install to put Vista Ultimate on it. YMMV.

    And yes, Steam is pretty awesome. Do you play any multiplayer games, like Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead? Or are you indulging the classic LucasArts stuff like Monkey Island, Loom, and the Dig?

  6. Me=jealous of your new rig.

    Steam has gone from “teh suck” to “teh awesome” in the time of its initial release. While download speeds have increased dramatically, if you have most of your gaming catalog through the platform, the best thing to do once installed again is to let it run over night with all the programs you want to re-install.

    That way, it won’t hog bandwith and it’ll do all the work for ya and you’ll be able to play and err, umm, check your invites in the morning. ;)

    Have fun with the new rig!

  7. It’s always a good idea to have a spare power supply handy. Or at least a $10 PSU tester, so you don’t have to remove the PSU and play shop & swap to find out if the PSU is dead.

    If the mobo’s gone the unit is spare parts, for home use or eBay fodder, but you test the PSU anyway to make sure it isn’t what fried the mobo.

  8. The first thing I do when a new computer is a clean reinstall so I can have exactly what I want on it.

  9. Almost forgot — evil curses upon computer companies that manufacture their units with proprietary PSU’s that cannot be replaced with standardized units, but only with their own units at four times the cost of a standard unit.

  10. Core i7: sweet but overkill. Core 2 Quad 9400 would’ve saved you some big bucks and still kept up on gaming res and frame rates. OTOH, you can see a good deal of blue sky with it, so this one should last you until Athena goes to college.

  11. John, I had the same power supply problem a few weeks ago. I believe best buy’s return policy is pretty liberal for power supplies, so if it turns out not to be the problem, you can just return it.

  12. No concern @ 15 Don’t start _that_ argument again. I made the mistake of hitting “Email me with updates” on that post and it flooded my inbox with fans from both sides for weeks. :P

  13. Can I say I’ve just had a moment of weak-kneed gadget lust at reading your computer specs. Despite having three computers I cycle between which are all quite well suited for my needs… ah, blue sky.

  14. That’s pretty close to the rig I put together a few months ago, except I went with 12g instead of 6g of RAM, and slightly different video options. One comment – if you’re running vista 64 on it, which you probably should be until the win 7 upgrade comes in, gametap doesn’t work properly. They don’t support 64-bit OSes. I canceled my gametap sub for that exact reason.

    Steam, on the other hand, just works fine, and I re-downloaded all the games I had from them.

  15. See, this is why I never recycle anything…last time this happened to me, I just ripped one out of an older machine.

  16. Be prepared for an *aaaarrrrggghhh* moment, if your current license of Office is not the same edition (Pro, Standard, Small Business, Student, etc. etc.) as the one on the new machine. You may have to fetch your old media and reinstall anyway.

  17. One option to consider is just parking a functional box by the broken one and running power cables over from the good power supply. If the broken computer boots up just fine with the electron transfusion, that’ll confirm that the power supply is the only problem.

    The only catch is to make sure you disconnect everything in the functional computer from the power supply, just on the remote chance that the broken power supply was an effect of some other component breaking.

  18. It would be interesting to know what kind of games do science fiction writer’s play. Along the same lines of what types of detective stories did Wittgenstein read. Not being judgemental, just a curiosity that makes the writer/thinker more three dimensional. Locus should do a poll.
    Are you satisfied with Gamefly’s selection?

  19. Bozo @#13,

    there’s no such thing as “too much” when it comes to gaming rigs.

    (And with the dual high-end ATI cards rigged in CrossFire mode, I have a sneaking suspicion that this will not be strictly a writing machine.)

  20. /drool
    Me wants! I just recently-ish built myself a new machine, and while it is quite nice, it is not as good as that! Ofc, this is partially because a lot of the actual parts are recycled from an older, failed attempt at building a computer, and because some of that stuff would be ridiculous overkill (like having 2TB of hard drive space, since I don’t store music, or pictures, or movies, or anything really but games on this computer).

    I also like Internet game providers, but with a few caveats. First, Steam seems to have some problems with getting the most up to date patches (I have a few games from them which report version numbers lower than the official most-recent patch). Second, I’m not sure how long these things will last. I have a number of games a decade or more old, many from companies that no longer exist, and I wonder whether I would still be able to play them if I had bought them from a Steam-type service. That said, it is certainly far more convenient not to have to search for CDs or DVDs whenever I want to start or install a game.

  21. :No Concern @15

    John is a “Productive Artist” not a wanabee, thus the high powered PC rather then the highly-strung MAC…

    (I, on the other hand, am not so produtive thus I justify the ownership of both)

  22. It’s uncanny… I have a scribbled post-it note on my monitor right now with my tentative plans for a new “budget gamer rig” in the fall, to replace the nigh-on 5 year old veteran I’m typing this on.

    I was looking at a Core i7 920 and dual Radeon HD4850s. (Hadn’t settled on a mobo yet, but yours sounds nice.) I guess if we’re both gunning for about the same function, we’ll end up with similar specs…

    — Steve

  23. One thing gets me about the latest hardware:

    John’s new beast has 2 TB of disk drive (not unusual) – so how does anyone use more than a fraction of that space?

    RAID it? But for a gaming rig you want RAID 0 anyway (oops – gone into geek mode – but if you have access to a tame techie RAID 0 on a gaming machine will halve game load times).

    Videos? But unless you’re Pirate Bay or put your entire DVD collection on a server……….

    Pictures? I know John is a keen photographer but……..

    2 TB is a LOT of space – think detailed satellite imagery of the entire earth’s surface and you might manage to use a chunk of it.

    Anyone out there managed to find a use for that sort of data volume on a home PC that is not a server?

    Technically – those volumes actually mean faster drives, so to answer my own question the space is irrelevant from a storage aspect for a “simple” PC, but has anyone found a use for that much space aside from storing your entire DVD collection?

  24. Andy, I don’t know about others, but most games nowadays that I end up buying and installing take up around 10GB each, what with all the graphics meshes and video clips they include now. Command and Conquer has some enormous files. So does Steam. So those take up a big chunk right there. Sure, it’s not a terabyte — yet. Gimme another year or two though, and it’ll get close.

    Plus, I personally dual-boot, so I like having lots of disk space on each partition. So a 1TB disk really turns into two 512GB disks.

  25. Andy @32:

    “John’s new beast has 2 TB of disk drive (not unusual) – so how does anyone use more than a fraction of that space?”

    We used to say to say that about 20 MB hard drive. Like yeast, computer files expand geometrically to fill their environment.

  26. Brett + Tom,

    I guess you are right – applications will grow to fill the space. Who needs to compress and slow down the reading of data files when you have bags of space?

    That’s me not thinking, or rather applying real-world thinking. Usually something is invented or provided to fulfill a need. But in this case, as is common in the IT industry, the solution is provided so people will find a use for it.

    Gone are the days when we had to worry about being able to fit the application on one or two 1.4 mb floppy disks! Young people today never had to compress data the way we did in my day………….

    Mind you – as Tom alluded, whilst 10 GB games come on disk, the situation is much different for games streamed online through Steam and the like.

  27. Andy — Steam doesn’t stream games to your computer, it dumps an enormous load of resources. Unless you’re using the term differently than me — there are a few new services looking for VC that promise to stream games to you, using their hardware.

    Now the upshot is any game that uses the Source engine can use the preexisting one, I believe. Thus, I have the source engine taking up gobs of space, but the actual game resources are much smaller — though still several gigs.

    On the subject of wasteful programming, Jeff Atwood over at claims (and I tend to believe him) that hardware is cheap, programming time is expensive. It’s usually the case that it’s easier to add memory or disk space than to waste man hours trying to compress, compress, compress.

  28. Depending on what flavor of Office 2007 you were using, you may not be able to use the Product Key you have with the Trial Version preinstalled on your new PC. My professional experience has been that you need an MLK (Medialess License Key) purchased from the folks that sold you the PC. I know that a Volume License Key won’t work but a Retail (FPP) key may.

    You can still use your old license, you might have to uninstall the Trial (completely) and install Office from the disk(s) you already have.

    Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy

  29. Andy W.: I think I’m probably using a terabyte or so on my main desktop. (It’s RAID 1. I was very impressed when I lost my main IDE controller — and Windows told me about this with a little pop-up box and continued functioning normally.)

    On there, there’s some startlingly high amount of data from my dissertation (finished a couple of years ago, but I still have followup stuff I intend to do), incremental backups of this and that that tend to be a gigabyte or so each, big piles of install files from things I’ve downloaded and installed in the past, lots of digital pictures, .wav files that I’ve ripped from LPs but haven’t gotten around to running through the denoiser to my satisfaction, and so on and so forth.

    Of course, a fair bit of what’s on there is junk, but the disk space is cheaper than the time-cost of figuring out what I could happily throw out. Still, a lot of that space is used up in things that amount to backups pulled off of older machines, copied over wholesale and unsorted, and I’m sure some things I’ve got multiple duplicates of, as a result.

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