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.

I Love My New Computer. I Hate Windows 8.1


I’m typing on the new computer I ‘built’ a few weeks ago. It’s ‘built,’ not built, because I didn’t actually put the components into their slots. That honor went to a tech at Fry’s. It was built with parts I specified after lots of research and angst. It is custom in every sense of the word.

In nearly every respect this box performs better than anticipated. Because its system drive is an SSD, instead of a mechanical hard drive, it boots in under 20 seconds. Photoshop, a major beast of a program, lights up in under three seconds!

The system was built to manipulate stills and videos while being quiet. It does both very well. High def video is often rendered faster than its realtime running length!

Having two 1920×1080 monitors (which I bought at BestBuy) has given me loads of desktop real estate, making nearly everything I do easier. Two, three, four or more programs can be open simultaneously. That’s a web design game changer.

All that being said, Windows 8.1 is the weakest link. For a longtime Windows user this latest Microsoft iteration is non-intuitive while adding extra steps and hoops to jump through.

What were they thinking?

The problem is Windows 8 was built to be used in touchscreen and keyboard scenarios. It comes up short when you are forced to use actions more suitable to a tablet on a keyboard and mouse computer. It is frustrating.

My friend Peter Mokover is in the final stages of building a similar computer. He asked which OS to use, Windows 7 or 8.1?&#185 I’m not sure.

Windows 7 is a better bet right now. But, as a geek, it’s tough to not use the latest operating system which is still in active development. I won’t be surprised if he grits his teeth and goes with Windows 8.1, even knowing it’s bad.

For my purposes (and Peter’s) a Windows alternative is not an option. Too many of the specialized programs we need only run on this platform.

For most general users who basically surf and read email, Microsoft is shooting themselves in the foot! Nowadays web based apps are replacing OS specific programs. This debacle will only push more people to Android or Apple’s OSX and IOS.

Here’s my rundown:

  • Windows 8.1 (x64) (build 9600)
  • CPU: 3.50 gigahertz Intel Core i7-4770K
  • Motherboard: Z87-G45 GAMING (MS-7821) 1.0
  • RAM: 16328 Megabytes Usable Installed Memory
  • Drive: Samsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB [Hard drive] (250.06 GB) — drive 0
  • Drive: WDC WD2002FAEX-007BA0 [Hard drive] (2000.40 GB) — drive 1
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 [Display adapter]
  • Monitor (2): AOC 2367 [Monitor] (23.1″vis, s/n BEGD89A000462, August 2013)
  • Case: Thermaltake Soprano

&#185 – Windows 8.1 is a free, service upgrade to Windows 8 after the original cry from users. It is a small, incremental improvement over the original.

Playing Games With The New Computer

It’s given away with my video card to demonstrate the card’s power. Mission accomplished!

Call_of_Duty.PNGAt the moment the new computer seems to be running perfectly. Of course that means I’m going to retry installing Windows 7. I keeping fixing stuff until it’s truly broken!

Meanwhile this PC came with Call of Duty, World at War. Last night I loaded it.

I am not a gamer. Looking at what’s on this disk totally blew me away.

First, if you’re a parent and your children are playing games like this you should know the game is overflowing with gratuitous, often depraved, violence. Yes, it’s a game, but I actually covered my eyes during the setup video when a Japanese soldier tortured then slit the throat of an American POW on a Pacific atoll during WWII.

The game play is amazing. This is a “first person shooter.” The motion is fluid and the scenes are detailed. With moody and often underexposed lighting less detail seems like more.

It’s given away with my video card to demonstrate the card’s power. Mission accomplished!

The game is controlled by the keyboard and mouse. Though I had a joystick at the ready (and was hoping to use it) it’s unneeded.

So far I’ve been through one scene and have advanced (and died numerous times) in the second. I’m not sure how far the game goes or whether there is a finite end point where you win?

It’s addictive. Are you happy Activision? Just what I needed another useless timesink!

After playing this evening I decided to watch the credits. There are hundreds of people involved–often in jobs whose title does little to convey to me what they actually do! The names read like a United Nations roster… except they’re 95% male. Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise.

I’m not sure which will come first. Will I fight my way to the end or just lose interest? Right now I’m not making any bets. I really don’t know. It can go either way.

With Computers Nothing Goes Smoothly

I could feel it as the mouse pointer began to lag behind the mouse. Then audio came out as if a 78 rpm record was playing at 33 rpm (old reference–I know).

pc-box-wires.jpgThe new PC fired up the first time! Windows 7, thought not a painless install, also went in pretty easily. Of course, being the consummate pessimist I waited for the other shoe to drop.

5 – 4 – 3 – 2- 1 Bingo! The computer to begin to crawl.

The mouse pointer began to lag behind the mouse. There’s an interesting connect here because you feel something you’re really not feeling! Then audio came out as if a 78 rpm record was playing at 33 rpm (old reference–I know).

When something like this happens Google is your friend. If you can enter the right terms you’ll find someone else who’s felt your pain and, hopefully, found the solution.

I could find nothing!

The problem doesn’t come on at boot. It waits before happening.

busy-box-computer.jpgThe voltages and temperatures seemed fine. The CPU was running OK. My power supply is very beefy with more than enough power to run this machine (and a small town). It was all very puzzling.

Maybe it was a problem with Windows 7? I reformatted the hard drive and loaded Windows XP SP3. Time consuming, but painless. I’ve installed and re-installed this OS dozens of times.

Things started fine but withing a few minutes I realized I’d pissed away my time. The machine was crawling.

I think (but still am not sure) the problem is an internal card reader bought for under $10 on eBay.

Once I get this problem stabilized and eliminated I can begin to optimize the BIOS and get this thing screaming. I did run a short benchmark and the results were stunningly fast.

A few more days–I hope.

The New PC Build Begins

A Youtube video claiming a 20 minute build had me thinking I’d overestimated the job.

Nope–20 minutes passed with me barely scratching the surface.

the build begins.jpgAs mentioned earlier my major birthday gift was a new computer. I wanted something beefy and speedy. That meant no store bought PC, but something assembled here at home–literally on the kitchen table!

There was no time this weekend so I started tonight. A Youtube video claiming a 20 minute build had me thinking I’d overestimated the job.

Nope–20 minutes passed with me barely scratching the surface.

There is no instruction manual on how to go about this. Sure, every individual component has some sort of manual, but none of these parts are specifically meant to mate and the order of assembly is my choice alone.

On top of that there will be cables from the power supply left unconnected. Will they be the right ones? Will I forget something? Hopefully not.

I began installing the power supply, front panel card reader and a disk drive. Then I began to populate the motherboard with the CPU, fan/heat sink and video card. Once that was done I installed the nine standoffs and screws to attach it to the case.

pny video card.jpgThis is my first time with the new generation of powerful video cards. My card is quite imposing! It’s probably as powerful on its own as my last fully assembled PC.

I’m breaking now because there are parts I need to scavenge from an older machine. Then comes the installation of the operating systems (Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux) and drivers.

I might be done by tomorrow. Maybe not.

When finished the build will be fully documented in pictures and text.

The New Computer

Monday I was having a conversation with some folks at the station. They were surprised people build their own computers.

Nerd Alert!

This entry will be very dense and geeky. Don’t feel obliged to read it. To most people it will make little sense.

I ordered the components for my new computer Tuesday. Most of the order will be here Wednesday with one (important) piece arriving Friday. I have dealt with NewEgg before so this speed is no surprise. They ship from NJ and CA.

The machine will be built to speed up video and still production. Photo files have gotten much larger and difficult to easily handle. Video files, also larger, are often encoded in a way which makes them very CPU intensive when played or edited. My old computer is sometimes outmatched. Transocding video or making a large panorama can take hours!

I’m not sure this computer’s power will be very noticeable for web surfing.

There was more than one goal in mind while spec’ing out the components. Obviously, it had to be fast. Secondly, there was the matter of noise. Third… well you can spend as much as you wish! I wanted to show some restraint.

In the reviews for the pieces which will go in this box I searched for the words noise and silence.

The CPU or ‘brains’ will be an AMD Phenom II X4 945. I went with AMD instead of Intel strictly on price. The Intel chips are a little faster but they’re also a lot more money as are the compatible motherboards.

This chip is a quad core meaning there are four very fast computers in this one package. Today’s software can handle that allowing simultaneous programs to zip along without bothering each other.

As computer chips have moved through their generations the sockets they are plugged into have changed. This chip uses an AM3 socket which also supports DDR3 memory. That’s the fastest you can get. The machine starts with 4Gb, but there’s room for more and today’s 64 bit operating systems handle more.

The motherboard is from ASUS. They have an excellent reputation. This has the features I need, but most motherboards do. It doesn’t have integrated video, which most boards do have, but which I didn’t need.

Originally I’d spec’ed out a video card with ATI chips. My friend Bob said there had been some compatibility with ATI and Linux (this system will boot to both Linux and Windows 7, though not at the same time) so I moved to an Nvidia card. Both are very fast. I needed two output channels as I use two 19″ montiors for 2560×1080 resolution.

Video cards are becoming more important as some video/photo editing math has been moved from the main CPU to the processor on the video card which is specifically optimized to perform these calculations.

My power supply is an OCZ because the overall buyer ratings were good as was the price and the comments which mentioned noise. Seven hundred watts should be more than enough. Good grief, it had better be!

The case really puzzled me. I’m not sure how to quantify this purchase which seems like it should be nothing more than a commodity–a box with standardized hole spacing to mount the whole shooting match. I settled on a CoolerMaster which got good reviews and had audio, USB and Firewire ports on the front.

Sorry, no LED encrusted fans, cold cathode lights or ruby red tansparent side panels. Some people customize the look as if these computers were hot rods. That’s actually not far from what this machine will be but aesthetics are low on my list.

Just in case I hadn’t gone far enough I added a noise dampening kit which mounts soft sound absorbent pads on the case’s walls. It was under $10 and seemed like good extra protection.

There’s a ‘small’ 250Gb SATA drive coming as the system drive. The 1Tb drive currently in my main computer will move here for data. Two DVDRW drives will come from older machines as well.

As mentioned earlier this will be a dual boot machine. There will be a partition for Ubuntu Linux and another for Windows 7. It doesn’t make sense not to have a Linux side.

Monday I was having a conversation with some folks at the station. They were surprised people build their own computers. It’s a very small minority and probably getting smaller. Years ago there was a price saving. It’s much less now.

It is very easy to do. The whole shooting match shouldn’t take more than a few hours to complete–maybe less. It can all be done without instructions because most components can only go in the right place!

I’ve designed systems before. There is a definite sense of accomplishment when you know the computer’s performance has been enhanced by decisions you made.

A New Computer–Possibly

Oh techie friends. I am considering building a new system and was looking for a little input.

Oh techie friends. I am considering building a new system and was looking for a little input.

I’ve had a lot of luck with AMD processors and appreciate the lower price point. I will stick with that. I’m open nearly everywhere else.

Here are my early thoughts:


Video card

Power supply


I’ll probably reuse my current SATA hard drive and IDE optical drives. I’m unsure about what to do for a case, though that seems reasonably unimportant. For the time being I’d run dual boot with Ubuntu and Windows 7.

I am looking for comments and suggestions. All will be appreciated.

Google Changes Everything With The New Google Chrome OS

Price out Windows Vista (or soon-to-come Windows 7) or Apple’s Mac OS X Leopard and see how they stack up against free! Google’s new OS will be open source which means free.

A little after midnight Google made a startling announcement. Late next year Google will roll out an operating system–Google Chrome.

Price out Windows Vista (or soon-to-come Windows 7) or Apple’s Mac OS X Leopard and see how they stack up against free! Google’s new OS will be open source which means free.

Some of you reading this are more technophobe than technophile so here’s a quick explanation. An operating system connects the programs you run with the underlying hardware that is your computer. Different operating systems interface with programs differently. Software must be written or rewritten for each OS. That is why my Mac friends kvetch so often about applications they want not being available for their machine.

Google’s OS promises to untie applications from a specific OS.

The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

Actually there are lots of promises starting with security and speed.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

This is a huge announcement. Microsoft and Apple stock will plunge this morning. As of now their business plans are suspect.

It’s more than just a tech thing. This is a seminal moment in the history of communications, computing and media.