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A half-new—well, mostly-new—computer

I first built a computer in 2005, hoping I had done it so that I’d be able to readily substitute parts as I needed to.  Between then, and the time its BIOS moved to a better place (metaphorically speaking), I part-succeeded, in that last year I replaced my 802.11b Wi-Fi adapter with an 802.11g.  But otherwise, my goodness, was I dreaming.

I had been contemplating a general upgrade for a while—my computer was no longer exactly fast, and it was often using more memory than it had—but it was when my BIOS stared at me with a “Scanning hard drive for BIOS… BIOS Image not found!!!” that I knew there was no more waiting.  That’s it moving to a better place—it was somewhat depressing.  I lived without a home computer, and without access to files I hadn’t backed up, for three weeks.

So, part by part?  My CPU, I wanted to upgrade to dual-core anyway.  Even if my motherboard hadn’t passed on, it wouldn’t have supported any multi-core processor.  Then, no modern motherboard still supports AGP graphics cards.  Nor do any support the old DDR standard (though I needed more RAM anyway).  Finally, Windows had been complaining about corrupt hard drive files for a while, so to play it safe, I was after a new one of those as well.  And I had been thinking about a getting a nicer keyboard and mouse for a while.

Pretty much, an overhaul, not an upgrade.  What was left standing?  My chassis, power supply unit, optical drive, floppy drive, Wi-Fi adapter, monitor and speakers.  And, a modem and TV/FM tuner, but their usefulness had sort of vanished anyway, so I did away with them.

It can seem like a straight half-half split, but consider that apart from the PSU and monitor, those are all the relatively inexpensive, and not to mention peripheral, parts.  But there was more to come.  Imagine my dismay when, turning on my newly constructed computer for the first time, my PSU made a sad gasp, and the blue LEDs on my fans stayed alight for less than a second.  Another trip to the store, another part replaced.  Thankfully, the new PSU did the trick.  (My monitor’s still good.)

So, after a day of installing drivers and software, now I’ve got a new computer.  (I tend to call it that, because “mostly-new” is a bit of a mouthful.)  I’m running the Windows 7 release candidate on it, and I’m largely impressed—despite the new layout, it took no time to get used to and its navigation features are incredibly useful.  Most drivers have been fine; only my camera’s interface program has demanded a compatibility mode, though I still haven’t managed to get my camera to initiate communication.  I gather that I’m somewhat unique in that I’ve already encountered two blue-screen crashes, two freezes and a freeze-on-shutdown—whether that’s a Windows problem or a hardware problem, I’m not sure.

Admittedly, my new keyboard and mouse was more a want than a need.  I struggled to find a good corded keyboard and mouse, so I went for a cordless one.  The transmission between them doesn’t seem to be as good as I hoped it would—not unless I bring the receiver on top of the table with a USB extension lead.  And—this is the killer—it’s inherently impossible to start your computer in safe mode.  Somehow, the computer just doesn’t recognise the keyboard.  So you just wait, while the timer counts down, and eventually Windows starts normally.  The lots of buttons, wave contour and hyper-scrolling sort of make up for the cordless-related problems.

That all said, if there’s one thing that initially struck me about my new computer, it’s that it’s a lot faster than my old one.  I suppose that was always a given: dual-core, 4 GB of RAM, and Windows 7.  One would be disappointed if it ran at a similar pace, but it’s still a nice change.

It was also a nice diversion from exam preparation.  I shouldn’t really allow that diversion to continue.

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