My butt is sore. Much of yesterday was spent on the hardwood floor in my office moving pieces in and out of my main computer.
Over the past few months, this computer has become more and more unstable. As tech support for my family and many of my friends, this is a situation I have seen and advised on many times in the past. Usually I consider a total rebuild to be the last resort. This was different.
I am, alas, fast and loose when it comes to software. I move things in and out of my machine on a fairly steady and totally disorganized way. Who really knows what was inside of it to make it croak?
On many machines the instability is caused by outside forces containing viruses and spyware. I don’t think that was the case (though it’s possible). Somehow, through all my playing, some driver been ‘pranged.’ It’s possible it was just one byte, or maybe more. It was impossible to predict where or when the crash would occur – only that it would.
Of course that’s the problem. Computers should be dependable. How anxious would anyone be to do any work on a computer with the understanding that you were no more than minutes or seconds to losing everything you had worked on?
I decided the best course of action would be to add a new hard drive, allowing me to keep my old data and reorganize. Most modern computers have one hard drive and a CDROM or DVD player/recorder. This machine now has five¹ hard drives, a CDRW and DVDRW.
Staples was having a sale and I picked up a 160 GB drive for $70. That’s an astounding number, though it probably will be middle of the road in a few months and expensive by the summer. That’s how high tech pricing goes.
My friend Peter is disappointed I didn’t buy the biggest and (more importantly) fastest drive I could get my hands on. I am a firm believer that most high tech horsepower is wasted. Getting a deal was more important than getting a speed demon.
I plopped the drive in the case… not as easy as it sounds. Because of all the pre-existing wiring, I had to disconnect and reconnect devices to swing the drive bay out and then back in.
Who exactly designed the plugs used in IDE disk drives? This is ridiculous, with an almost impossible to find key arrangement that allows you to decide whether the plug is going in upside up or upside down. It is possible to put it in backwards and bend some pins. Ask the man who has!
This 160 GB hard drive has more capacity than my machine can address! I put in a CDROM from the drive’s manufacturer, Maxtor and split it into 3 parts: 10, 75 and 79 GB. It was time to turn my computer back into a computer.
As I was loading Windows, a sobering thought entered my mind. What if it was crashing because of some hardware failure? I would be out the $70 for a drive that would be useless. I didn’t want that.
Windows loaded fine. Then, I pulled out a CDROM I had burned (and have used at least a half dozen times since) with Windows XP Service Pack 2. This is so much easier than downloading it every time it’s needed.
I have discussed this with other techno weenie friends. No matter how many times you install Windows, each installation comes out slightly differently. I have no idea why.
After Windows was totally up-to-date, I began to load all the hardware specific drivers I needed. I was surprised that the drivers for my video card were totally different -totally redesigned in look and feel – from what I had been using.
Are they faster and better or just different? With computers, version 2 is not necessarily better than version 1.
Next I started to move back some of the software. Because of Windows structure, if you put in a new drive and reload Windows, all your old installed programs (even if they’re still accessible) have to be reinstalled from scratch! The data remains, but the program is unusable.
As of this moment, I, once again, have a working computer. Of course I always did have a working computer… there are three in this room at the moment. But, right now, my main machine is pure and sweet and speedy again. Its data is still somewhat disassociated from its programs. That will need to be fixed. I’ll also keep checking to see what I’ve forgotten or misplaced.
The final step to make this box totally operational will be to follow some on-line instructions and shut down a bunch of services Windows runs in the background which I don’t need, and which slow down any computer.
All of this is a royal pain, yet it’s my fun.
¹ – Only four are supported at any one time and the smallest is currently offline. It contains most of my photos, which will be moved to another drive. Then it will be removed from the case and used in another project.