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.