I love my new PC

February 1, 2007 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

Up until about three weeks ago, I was running (walking, more like) an embarrassing clunker of a computer. It was a 450 MHz Athlon K6 that a friend gave me four or so years ago to replace my first computer, a 200 MHz Pentium with 32 MB of RAM and 2 GB hard drive running Windows 95. The Athlon box got sicker and sicker as time went on; it really was one thing after another.

We were running Windows 98 SE on a new 60 GB hard drive when we got it, and then I got a copy of XP Pro SP1 from work (which was possibly illegal… wait, it was a corporate license, that’s it…). Everything seemed okay after I installed it, and it was more stable than 98—for the time being. I bought a 256 MB stick of memory and installed that, which improved performance somewhat.

But then things started fucking up and/or shutting down, one by one—two by two, even. One morning Windows wouldn’t load, so I booted from the CD, and it wanted to re-install XP. I was stuck in BIOS purgatory and couldn’t even get a DOS prompt. We brought the box into Microbytes where they determined the power supply was shot and something had fried the hard drive. Everything on it was lost, including all of my music recording project files. (Looking back, we should have paid for data retrieval, as I was working then and always had lots of money.) The HD was still under warranty, however, so they gave us a new one. A closer look at the motherboard revealed that the IDE sockets were also semi-fried, so I bought a Promise IDE controller PCI card on which I piggybacked both the hard drive and CD. (The PCI sockets were also likely fucked as well.)

In any case, the thing ran okay, with the occasional, to-be-expected Windows quirk and BSOD. I was being infected by hordes of spyware, in part because I was afraid to download and install XP SP2 in case Microsoft detected my perhaps-not-exactly-legal copy of XP. So I’d run SpyBot and AdAware, which, given the speed of the processor and the other bottlenecks imposed on the system (such as the IDE card), would take hours. No shit, hours. If they didn’t BSOD the system, that is, and even then, not all of the malware would be removed.

I installed ZoneAlarm as a firewall because at one point a bot got into the system and started sending spam from my IP. ZoneAlarm, though, seemed to bottleneck things even more. I’d have to disable it to make any sense of streaming video, and it would prevent logins on certain sites. Still, it prevented a lot of malicious stuff.

I should mention the box had no working fan, so I removed the side panels. Still, it would overheat and start beeping. I got tired of it, so I went into the BIOS to shut off the beep warning. For all I know, it was always overheating.

And yet the computer was running slower and slower. Windows took a good two minutes to boot, and then a user account another two minutes to load and become functional. (If you clicked anything before the magic point, which we came to intuit, the system would freeze for a while.) BSODs started happening daily; or, more accurately, there would be a run of three or four days when Windows would crash at least once a day, then maybe a week when it would run without crashing, and then another few days of crashes, and so on. Outlook Express would hang for a good minute on startup (though OE has always been a bit wonky, even on my souped-up PC at my former job). Firefox would take too long to open and load pages.

Around last summer, I got hooked on YouTube; it was incredibly frustrating to have to watch chunky, out-of-AV-sync video that would randomly cut out. It was then that I started investigating the cost of finally getting a new PC. I naturally went to the Microbytes site, where you can build custom systems. Their basic Celeron systems started in the low $400 range, which left plenty of financial wiggle room for the extras I wanted: a larger HD, more RAM, a rewritable optical drive. It would be do-able moneywise.

Everything came to a head last fall. Windows would occasionally not load at all, the hard drive wouldn’t be detected and I’d have to jiggle the connectors on the IDE card, and around Christmas, there seemed to be an increase of animated banner and sidebar crap on every site we went to (like the skating gingerbread man on Yahoo!) that slowed Firefox to a crawl. I just knew that any day now the motherboard would just stop working, or the hard drive would get wiped out again.

As soon as our huge January bursaries came, then, we went off to Microbytes and ordered a new system. They built it in a few days and when we went to pick it up, they installed the old HD (which never had a problem) as a data drive. It’s a 64-bit Celeron 2.8 GHz—yes, only a Celeron and not a dual-core, but we don’t do any gaming or other intense computing here, and given our budget, I’d rather get a Celeron and be able to buy more RAM than spend the equivalent on a dual-core we really don’t need. (And Intel fixed the FSB bottlenecks of the original Celerons a long time ago.) Right now it’s got 512 MB of 667 MHz DDR2 RAM; I’ll of course have to buy more when I upgrade to Vista (but that’s another post). It’s running a legal copy of XP Home SP2, which means I can download patches and updates and stuff like Windows Defender without worrying about Steve Ballmer busting down my door to beat me up while howling like a monkey. I decided on a DVD-RW rather than a CD-RW, because Vista Home Premium requires a DVD, presumably to load and install of the animations and what not.

With a new system, but still running XP, I didn’t want to feel like I was still using the old piece of crap, so a new look was in order. Rather than use the standard blue or grey XP themes, I downloaded the Royale theme, an official Microsoft theme (rather than those sketchy WindowBlinds themes) that was used for XP Media Center edition but never widely released on its own. It comes in blue and black, with black being the theme we each use. Here are some screenshots:

download-progress-bar.jpg

Everything has a more rounded, shiny plastic feel rather than the boring beveled bars in the standard XP themes. A little less Fisher Price. Note the fluorescent green progress bar, which is highly reminiscent of the jellybeans in Mac OS X. Also candy-like is the Start button:

start-green.jpg

It turns this colour only on mouse-over; the rest of the time it’s black and therefore less intrusive in your peripheral vision:

taskbar1.jpg

It’s not Vista Aero Glass, but it’s much better-looking than the old XP. Further, Microsoft is moving towards the Aero look for its XP apps as well; I noticed this in Windows Defender and Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger). Look at the Messenger icon in the Quick Launch tray above, just left of Photoshop on the taskbar. That’s definitely an Aero-style icon.

I’m very happy. The computer is blazing fast, everything works (so far—knock wood), and finally, my YouTube videos are smooth.

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Entry filed under: tech.

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About me

I am a student of Sociology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. I hold a degree in English Literature, also from Concordia.
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