Making An Old Computer New

IMG_20140308_235230-w800-h600If it seems like computers get slower over time, you’re right. It’s not because they’re wearing out. It’s because we’re inadvertently adding little helper programs every time we install something new. These are the programs that check to see if your software needs updating or get large applications started faster.

All of this happens at the expense of your computer’s performance.

No matter how hard I try to avoid these little vampires, they accumulate. After a while, a fast computer becomes a slow computer.

That’s the story with this Windows 7 laptop I’m typing on. Photo editing became a painful experience. Other chores too.

The disk light was constantly flashing, a sign I’d used all 4Gb RAM and was manipulating data on the much slower hard drive.

This afternoon I pulled off the data and moved it to an external drive. Next, three DVDs with the restore software had to be burned. Then, with the first disk in the drive I hit the power button.

This is not for the faint of heart. The laptop is returned to its original factory state. Everything has to be reinstalled. Passwords must be remembered.

It will take most of the week before this machine has everything it needs. I have all the disks. It’s just the time.

Right now I’m downloading 500Mb of Windows 7 updates! The computer seems a lot peppier. It would be nice if my effort made a difference.

The New Computer: Vroom


I spend a lot of time in front of the computer screen, much of it doing photography work and building websites. As my tasks have grown more complex my computer’s speed has become a concern. The decision was made before we left Connecticut, build a new computer in California.

That took place this weekend.

With months to ponder, I’d come up with a rough outline of what I wanted in-the-box. Over the last week the list was refined to specifics.

Everything was set to go at MicroCenter… until they refused to match one price on their website in the store. It wasn’t a lot, just 2% of my final bill, but it was upsetting and arrogant and I walked.

I headed to Fry’s where it all came together. Some items had to change because Fry’s didn’t carry the original, but I don’t think I compromised. In a few cases, I traded up.

My goal was to build a machine capable of video and photography (two of the most taxing chores a computer can accomplish) with two HD (1920×1080) monitors.

Why two monitors? It’s a question of real estate. More can be open and visible at the same time. It speeds the workflow. Once you’ve used two you never want to go back.

Here’s the rundown:

  • Intel Core i7 CPU–For most applications the Core i5 is perfect. The i7 adds capabilities my video and photo editing programs take advantage of. This CPU is “unlocked,” meaning I can overclock it, making it run faster than the factory settings. Scary territory. I probably won’t… but maybe.
  • MSI Z87-G45 Gaming motherboard–Z87 refers to the Intel chipset used on the board. It’s their latest iteration. This motherboard has loads of USB ports and is optimized for gaming. Once the chipset is chosen, I’m not sure how much difference the individual board makes. This wasn’t my first choice, but most reviews are very good.
  • EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 video card with 2gb RAM–It used to be video cards were dedicated to putting images on the screen. No more. Because video cards have special processors optimized to do math on video, some software developers have written their programs to use them. This should make video transcoding and editing and photo manipulation much faster.
  • 16gb RAM–The goal is to keep the computer from ever using a hard drive while calculating. More RAM eases that pain. I’ve never had more than 3gb before.
  • Windows 8.1–This was a tough choice. Microsoft made all sorts of user interface changes with Windows 8, which is built for both touchscreen and keyboard/mouse use. It is different and doesn’t do much that Windows 7 didn’t do. The jury is out, but I’ll get used to it over time.
  • Samsung 840 EVO SSD–My main disk drive is an SSD. No moving parts! It’s lightning fast. It’s also more expensive than a traditional hard drive and offers less space. On the other hand, my computer now boots in under 20 seconds. Programs load instantly. Glad I got it.
  • Western Digital Performance 2TB SATA hard drive–This is for data storage. The files I produce are immense.
  • Corsair H55 CPU cooler–In order to keep my CPU from frying and to keep noise down, I’m using a water cooler. So far, so good. The chip runs exceptionally cool (around 40&#176C) and it is quiet.
  • Corsair RM650 power supply–Designed to be quiet and energy efficient.
  • Thermaltake Soprano case–Insulate and vented to be quiet. It’s a little larger than I’d like, but it sits under my desk where it isn’t seen. There are four USB ports on the front panel, plus headphone and mic jacks.
  • LG Blue-Ray drive–Originally this was spec’ed as a DVD-RW. My friend Peter pointed out a BD-R holds 25gb on a disk, making it really useful for backups. At this point why be penny wise?
  • 2-AOC 2367 23″ IPS monitors–I got these at Best Buy for a great price. There are probably better monitors around, but for me these are perfect.

I found an online 3D video benchmark and ran it. The report said my machine maxed out the test!

There are true gaming hotshots who have machines faster, but the new computer’s pretty potent for my purposes. I’m happy.

Before It’s Earned…

With DopplerDesign up and running I’m spending more time (is that even possible) in front of a PC. Now it’s mainly work time.

I’ve noticed my main computer is getting too slow for the tasks thrown at it. Time for a new PC!

A few months ago I was going to write a blog entry about the death of desktop computers. For most people there’s no need to get a PC that’s tied to one location. Laptops and tablets are what’s selling. This is a special case.

I expect to edit lots of photos and video, both CPU intensive tasks. The new box will need a fast CPU, a fast video card, lots of RAM and a solid state disk. I plan on using two 1920×1080 monitors.

A few years ago my friend Peter noted we’ve spent the last few decades buying computers that cost about the same, but do a lot more. My first “PC compatible” had a 40 MB hard drive. In addition to the SSD the new machine will have a 1 TB drive. That’s 25,000 times more space.

Imagine if we could do that with closets!

Did I mention I’ll have to build this computer? There’s none off-the-shelf configured the way I want… at the price I want. You can surely spend a lot if you’re not careful.

Building is not as difficult as it might seem. Each part has only one matching slot on the motherboard. The question is, have I’ve ordered all the needed parts?

Since this is custom in every way, there will be no instructions. I’ve done it before. They always fire up and run the first time.

OK, I do get nervous when I hit the switch that first time.

By mentioning the new computer here I take the first step. The actual build is probably a few months away. Over that time I’ll obsess over and refine every piece of hardware on the list.

You can look and see the current specs here.