‘Nena’ – Christmas Comes Early For Dan

I thought I’d say a little bit about my new home desktop computer, because it occurs to me that I hadn’t said anything about it yet.

Dualitoo, my PC of the last few years, kicked the bucket on Friday a few weeks back, at a most inopportune time – I was due to write heaps of code over the weekend as part of a dangerously-close-to-overrunning project. But, as Rory said, ’tis the season of hardware failure, and with Ruth‘s laptop dying a death and Paul‘s overheating problems, I should have expected that maybe my turn would be next.

It’s probably no coincidence that it died the very next day after the storage heaters in The Cottage came on for the winter, one of which was directly behind the poor box. When it failed to turn on (fans spun, but no keyboard lights, monitor output, or even beep-codes), I started swapping out components for spares (many of them not “spares” so much as “parts of Claire‘s PC”). Power supply was the first thing to try, because in always-on boxes in a dusty environment, they’re usually the first thing to go. After it turned out that the PSU was fine, it was on to the expansion cards, then the RAM, and so on (I’d already disconnected all the IDE/SATA devices just to free up room in the case in which to wave my huge hands around).

Sadly, it turned out that malfunction was in pretty much the worst place it could be: either the processor or the motherboard, and – not having a spare of either that would be compatible with the other, I had to write off both. This left me with a defective computer requiring significant repair right before what was supposed to be a busy weekend of code.

On Saturday morning, I resolved to fix the problem – I couldn’t afford the downtime not to! – and so, not wishing to lose further time waiting for delivery of mail-order components, I decided to see what Aberystwyth could supply me with “over the counter.”

I dropped into Crosswood Computers, on Chalybeate Street, first, and stated my unusual requirements. I needed, as economically as possible:

  • An ATX motherboard and a processor at least as powerful as that which had died (Intel Core 2 Duo, 2.4GHz) – I didn’t want to feel like I was paying for a downgrade
  • With two IDE ports: my old board had four IDE devices attached to it, as well as one SATA hard drive – unless I was to ditch some of these I’d need two IDE ports on the motherboard, which is getting hard to find in this age of SATA
  • And a stack of features that are commonplace: 4 DDR2 slots, PCI-E (don’t require SLI or CrossFire-compatability, I guess: I never got round to using the SLI on my old board so I probably wouldn’t on my new one), onboard LAN, etc. – I still had perfectly good RAM, an aging-but-still-workable graphics card and so on that I’d like to still be able to use!

Crosswood were able to find me one – yes, just one – board and processor that fit the bill: that dual-IDE request is hard to meet. It’d have cost me about £140, which is more than I was comfortable paying for the hardware in question, which was – in the end – pretty much identical to that which had broken. I wouldn’t mind paying that kind of money if I felt like I was getting an upgrade, but to pay that just to “get running again” (plus, of course, all the hassle of un-mounting and re-mounting a motherboard, moving around all those stupid little brass screws, etc.) felt like a bad move.

Before having to rethink things, I thought I’d try what is Aberystwyth’s just-about-only-other computer shop, Daton (can’t link to their actual domain name because they’ve let it expire and it’s now an ad farm). I’ve always had mixed experiences with Daton – they’ve surprised me with bargain computer bits before, but they’ve also managed to unimpress me: for example, with the network cabling they half-heartedly lay at my old workplace. My conversation there on this day could be summarised thusly:

Dan: Hi, I wonder if you can help me. I’m looking to buy a motherboard and a processor for it: ATX form factor… either Intel or AMD – I’m architecture-agnostic these days… but crucially, it must have two IDE ports.

Daton Woman: Uh. Hang on. /goes into back and repeats everything I’ve said to Daton Man, then returns/ You’ll probably have to bring your computer in.

Dan: No, there’s really no need. I just need to buy a motherboard and processor from you. What do you have in stock?

Daton Woman: Well, we’d really need to be able to see your PC to know what’s wrong with it…

Dan: I don’t need you to tell me what’s wrong with it. I know what’s wrong with it. That’s why I’m asking for a motherboard and processor. Now can you sell me some, or should I shop elsewhere?

Daton Woman: …and we’ll have to order the parts in to repair it.

Dan: /sighs and leaves/

I trekked back to Crosswood, and on the way, I spoke to my mum on the phone – it’s come to that time of year when I call her up to hunt for tips on what my sisters are “into” these days, so I have a clue as to what they might like for Christmas. While talking to her, I mentioned the fun and games I was having with my computer problems. “Would you like some computer parts as an early Christmas present?” she asked. Suddenly my options were expanded.

By the end of Saturday, I’d built Nena, my new desktop PC. She carries on the hard drives from Dualitoo, alongside the RAM and – of course – the peripherals, but the rest is all new. She’s running an amazingly cool-running Intel Core 2 Quad Q6660 (2.4GHz quad-core) on an Intel-chipset motherboard from ECS. I got myself a new graphics card (a sexy-as-fuck Nvidia GeForce 9800 GT), too, replaced my two IDE optical drives with a shiny new high-speed SATA dual-layer DVD rewriter, and gave myself an extra 750GB of hard drive space (taking me up to 1.25TB – plenty for films and games and whatnot) with an extra hard drive. She makes light work of Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, Fallout 3 and Call of Duty: World at War, which is nice, because I might find time for more than a half-hour game of one of these ace games someday when I’m less busy… although by that time, my system’ll probably be out of date again.

Nena, of course, fits in with my current home computer naming scheme of “female one-hit wonders,” joining Tiffany in our living room.

What have I learned from the whole experience? Well, I’ve learned that:

  • It’s perfectly possible to get hold of all kinds of great computer components at short notice, even in Aberystwyth, and doing so only cost me about 3% more than I’d have expected to have paid online, and got me the goods instantly.
  • However, amazingly, nowhere in town could supply me with a case, so I had to loot one from my employer, SmartData, who had a spare (I couldn’t be bothered stripping down Dualitoo‘s case only to have to spend the next half hour removing and moving all those annoying brass screws: plus; her power button was dodgy).
  • I should have ditched my aging IDE optical devices long ago.
  • There’s a huge difference between an Nvidia 7-series and an Nvidia 9-series, and it blows your socks off.
  • Daton Computers don’t trust their customers enough to sell them what they’re asking for.
  • Crosswood Computers provide sound, helpful advice, and – if you’re friendly and buy enough stuff from them – are more than happy to “throw in” cables and adapters as freebies (I realised that I’d need SATA power adapters and data cables, one of those PSU 6-pin adapters you need for powered graphics cards if your PSU doesn’t already have one, and so on), which the chap at Crosswood was happy to just give me without charge, even though I didn’t buy the PSU from him in the first case.
  • The quad-core Intel processors actually seem to run colder than the dual-core ones.
  • My mum is ace.

6 replies to ‘Nena’ – Christmas Comes Early For Dan

  1. Well, with just ‘Nena’ and ‘Tiffany’ it might not be female one-hit wonders… you really need at least three to establish a trend…

    What’s the name of Claire’s? If it needs renaming to fit in, here are some suggestions:

    Dominique (Song, not singer, but she is female so it kind of counts)

    That’s all the ones I can think of who recorded under a single-name title..

  2. Nice, those are the components i’d chose, q6600 is the best value as is the 9800, might i ask from whence they were acquired and whatcha paid?

  3. As I said in the post, everything came from Crosswood Computers. Don’t remember individual prices, except that the 9800 matched Play.com’s price, and the CPU and board were about 3-4% more expensive than scan.co.uk (I later did a price comparison to see how much I’d had to pay to get “up and running” within a day, and was quite impressed!)

  4. So needless to say, I’ve been busy! The giveaway might have been that I haven’t blogged much – here’s a short summary of some of the things I’ve gotten up to:
    Fake Christmas

    Yeah, it really has been a while. So we had a “Fake Christmas”: this year – well, last year, I suppose – many of us Aberites planned to spend Christmas with our families, so we had an extra celebration a little earlier while we could all see one another. There was food and (lots of) drink and an exchanging of gifts, followed by copious quantities of Guitar Hero: World Tour, which Ruth, JTA and I had bought for Claire.
    Thanks to Rory for the photo.
    Real Christmas
    Claire and I went up to Preston to see my folks for Christmas. Many board games were played, including the truly terrible Wost-Case Scenario Survival Game (it turns out, the survival challenge is sitting through this dull, uninspiring game). Was good to see my family for the first time in ages, though, give my sister Becky her long-belated birthday present (I’d always expected to be visiting “any time now”… for the four months or so previous since I’d gotten it), etc.
    Because I’d been so busy (see Lots of Work, below), I actually took Nena, my main home desktop PC, up to Preston with me in order to get on with some more work over the Christmas break. My dad commented that there’s no shortage of computers at his house – I didn’t need to bring one! – but I pointed out that it was simply faster to unplug mine and bundle it into Claire’s car than it would be to set up my development toolchain, environment, etc. onto any other computer… by a long way.
    Between Fake and Real Christmas, I found myself gifted a variety of fabulous board games, cookware (still haven’t found an opportunity to use my blowtorch yet – except to play with it, that is! – but my blender consistently proves useful), computer bits, clothes, books, and booze – which was all quite rapidly consumed.
    New Year
    Back to Aber for New Year, and counted it down at The Cottage with friends, including a proper countdown using a little Ruby application I knocked up for that purpose. I was dis-satisfied with the exclusion of the positive leap second (which I planned to take advantage of) in any of the official televised countdowns, as well as with the fact that the transmission and digital-decoding delay would throw off our accurate appreciation of midnight by about five seconds, so I developed a tool that should have been accurate to closer to a quarter of a second and ran it in a nice, huge font on my monitor (and counted midnight twice, of course).
    For the second time (the first time was in 2000), I’m taking a break from alcohol, and this time Ruth is joining me, and so I stopped drinking at midnight. I’d originally planned this to be a year-long break, like last time, but I’m no longer sure: needs more thought. In any case, it’s certainly working well thus far, and I’m saving money and theoretically reducing my (previously, frankly ludicrous) alcohol tolerance without impacting my social life, so it’s a win regardless by this point.
    I turned 28 with a minimum of hoo-hah. Birthdays are fine and all, but I’ll wait until my thirtieth before I find an excuse for a party.
    In a form on Yet Another Fake Christmas, Claire and I visited her dad and his wife. They’ve just gotten themselves a Nintendo Wii with Wii Fit, which we played with a little and loved so much that we’ve since gotten a copy ourselves.
    It’s a lot of fun, although it’s hard to believe that the “exercises” it has you perform are particularly effective unless you do no other physical activity whatsoever. However, it does a good job of teasing you if you’re overweight, which I suppose is worth something.
    Lots of Work
    I hadn’t realised quite how busy I’d been for the last four months – and particularly for the last month and a half – with a web application I’ve been working on. It’s been a pet project benefitting a variety of organisations for the last six years or so, and my team and I have been slogging away at it for the last few months to make it suitable for a far wider audience. Suddenly, following the deployment of the latest version, almost a fortnight ago, I’ve found myself with a surprising amount of free time. The other day, Claire and I hung out with JTA and just sat and read the paper and discussed what was going on in the world for about half an hour before I started thinking, “Hey, isn’t there something I’m supposed to be working on right now?” before realising “No, no there isn’t!” Sheer bliss.
    And Catching Up
    Which has finally given me time to catch up on my neglected RSS reader. I finally feel like I’m up-to-date! All that remained was to post a blog entry – this one, in fact – to let everybody who hasn’t seen or heard much of me of late know that I’m still alive!
    So, that’s the last month and a bit for me! How’re you doing?

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