Thursday, April 10, 2008

Upgrade Hell

Just a quick note to cry ‘wolf’ for a second. Well, hopefully not that, but just in case something else comes up I guess my bases will be covered.

I’m pretty frustrated right now over something that, given past history, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about in the least.

Every time I go to make any kind of significant system upgrade to my computer there are always hiccups. It’s been this way for the past several years, and is one reason I hesitate to make such changes very often. It’s not that I’m not competent to do the work, I suppose it’s more that I’m just too damn cheap.

I’ve never purchased a ready-made computer; I’ve built every one of them I’ve owned since 1989. Only my first machine, which in turn was built by my friend and former business partner, Randy, came to me ready to use. I have since, with much guidance from Randy those first few attempts, been switching out motherboards, processors and components as PC technology has increased from the days of the 486 to now.

And why do I put myself through all this instead of just going out and buying a computer from BestBuy?

As of this moment, who-the-hell-knows?

Back in the 90s, it was a no-brainer as to the logic in being a computer Build-It-Yourself’er: cash-o-lah. Computers were comparatively much more expensive back then, with the average Macintosh setting you back well over $2,000.

Quality PC Clones, powerfully equipped enough for my purposes as a graphic designer ran at least $1,200-$1,500 out of the box as well. So why wouldn’t you want to put one together yourself for half-to-three-quarters of that cost? Personally I really had no choice; that’s the primary reason I never bought a Mac; couldn't afford one and I bristled at the idea that they had to be so expensive in the first place; after all, I know what goes into the darned things.

So I built, and I continue to build almost twenty years later — but unfortunately, almost never without some sort of hang-up. Usually it’s user error, but I always seem to figure things out (usually after a call or two to my comp-guru, Randy).

But in the end, I guess it’s the satisfaction of putting it all together — something I’m not all that accustomed to doing in other areas — that has driven my ‘puter BIY’er tendencies.

Some guys are really well-disposed to do-it-yourself stuff; be it cars or home improvement. I just kinda get by on that sort of thing. Again, it’s not that I can’t do it; it’s more that the perfectionist in me won’t leave ‘good enough’ alone. It has to be done right. I don’t do half-assed, and I’m just anal enough to refuse to even try if I have any doubt that I can finish the job to my own high standards.

But building computers has always sort of been ‘my thing.’ It’s one of the few things I do well that the majority of guys I know wouldn’t even attempt. I suppose it’s my compensation for not being an (auff-auff-auff) ‘Tool-Time’ kind-o guy.

But geeze-louise, I’m a little out of practice with today’s computers! The speed of these new dual-core processors requires heat dispensation like nothing I’ve ever dealt with before. The cooler fan and heatsinks attached to them are ginormous, and more than just a little daunting when you’re installing one for the first time — knowing full well that you could easily cook your entire system in a flash if you don’t do it right.

So now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, suffice it to say that things haven’t been going smoothly in my latest venture, which began a little less than two weeks ago.

I decided to make the quantum leap from a 1.7 MHz processor to a new-ish 2.6 MHz AMD X2 Dual-Core processor. The differences between the two are like night and day, system requirement-wise. Of course I didn’t know just to what extent those differences would figure into the hassle factor related to all of this.

My goal in building systems — and another reason I’ve never been keen on buying ready-made machines — is upgradability. I always like to leave my options open to adding functionality and speed to my system incrementally if possible. That's the best way to keep costs down as well as providing the most bang for the bucks you do spend. This is why I hadn’t upgraded my motherboard since 2002 — I didn't really have to. I was able to, however, upgrade my processor three times along the way, and my RAM memory twice.

But I had pushed that mobo as far as I could. It was time to move up to the new generation of dual-core-ready interfaces for the trusty AJ-built machine. So I sunk the ungodly sum of $300 into a new, state-of-the-art Gigabyte mobo, a not-the-latest-but-still-recent AMD 64 X2 processor, and 2 Gigs of very fast DDR2 RAM. Not a bad haul for so little dough when it comes right down to it.

However, the cost I didn’t anticipate was that of my time — and sanity, not to mention the realization that this wouldn’t be just a hardware-only upgrade.

What it all boiled down to was this: I successfully negotiated that stinking massive heatsink and fan, got the mobo installed without a hitch, and then hit a brick wall when I tried to boot up WinXP on my old (but still very compatible) hard drive.

I thought it was something to do with the configuration, maybe a wrong BIOS setting, maybe the faster-than-necessary RAM I obtained strictly for its built-in upgradability when I eventually upgrade my processor to an X2+...

I went through every possible permutation, but still no love.

Then Trey, my Web-mate at work, and also the person who guided me through the minefield of choosing the components for this system upgrade (he had recently done the same upgrade on his own system at home, and ironically had been using the same processor that I had previously), told me pretty much the last thing I wanted to hear.

“Man,” he sighed, “I think it’s your Windows installation.”


He said he believed the configuration of the hardware, the drivers, settings, etc., from within Windows XP was just too different for the new hardware to accept. I know, I don’t really understand it either, but given that Trey did an almost identical upgrade on his own system, I’m inclined to go with his suggestions. Unlike me, he did a clean install of Windows when he did his upgrade, whereas I just plugged the old hard drive containing the operating system back in, expecting it to work like it always had.

So all that to say, guess what I’ve been doing every night at home this week?

Yeah. Joy. Five years-worth of programs and personal files that have to be moved from the hard drive I can’t use to a temporary place so that I can re-format the drive, then reinstall Windows, then spend the hours and hours it will take to reinstall the programs.

And to make matters worse, I’ve been covered up like mad with work here at The Company, having to bring some of it home with me as well (to be done on Michelle’s computer).

So all that to say, the reason you haven’t seen me in this space lately is because I’ve been in hell — Upgrade Hell.

I actually have a post that I’ve GOT to post tonight before the subject matter gets any colder than it already is (I wanted to post it on Monday).

Look for it this evening. And pray for my deliverance.

From Hell.

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