I haven’t actually bought a new, non-laptop computer in many years.
I usually make my computers out of a combination of parts I have, parts from current computers, and new parts.
But this time I wanted to just go out and buy one; a damn good one, and not screw around with it very much.
Of course, as things go – especially in the computer and Windows world – there’s still a lot of screwing around to do. At least for a perfectionist and power user like I.
The computer I found is an HP. A good company, and pretty much always has been. They sell a good range of computers falling under any price and level of features that you want to pay for.
I didn’t want any crappy Gateway’s or Dell’s, no factory-built jobbers (I’d just build it myself), no refurbs, no cheapos (like eMachines – though they’re a perfectly fine computer).
I perused online, then headed out to the great megacity of Watertown. After trying to work through the semi-knowledge some of the guys at various computer stores have about the specific computers they sell (though the guy in Best Buy that I talked to knew a lot about computers and hardware/software – he wasn’t familiar with any of the computers enough to tell me their specs without looking on the side of the box; which is of negligible help and that I could do myself). I found a couple good ones at Best Buy, comparable in price and features to what I found online. I wrote the models down and headed home to look up the exact specs, and compare prices.
Only a few days later I’d settled on this one particular computer over all the others. Best Buy had the best price for it too, surprisingly.
I also had to update my multiple USB 1.1 distribution boxes to 2.0. And I threw in a new power strip while I was at it.
The little cutie who helped me out the second time around didn’t maybe know that much about the computers but she was very helpful and happy to do so.
That is; once I stopped staring at all of her fascinating piercings – and sure; I may have wondered a few times where else she may have had piercings… But for the most part I kept my mind on the computers.
And yea – maybe at the end of it all she may have had a hard time actually getting the money out of my hands (a la the typical sitcom joke). After all, I’m a cheap bastard and I was paying cash – nothing like seeing that much money leave my fingertips after holding and cuddling it lovingly in my sweaty, shaking hands. Heh heh.
Better to give it to Best Buy and get something out of it rather than having Uncle Bush and his cronies get their greedy oil-stained mitts on it.
Anyway, it is 2.4 Ghz, 4 gig of RAM, dual-core, real Intel, Nvidia card with separate memory (if you want to do graphics applications, video editing, or heavy-duty games make sure your video card isn’t sharing mem with the computer – blah), Dolby Surround Sound card, lots of Firewire and USB and audio (front and back) and digital video ports, SATA drives (the specs mention it’s IDE – strange), DVD writer with Lightscribe, lots of ports, expansion front and back, super quiet (compared to the relatively high decibels of my ‘industrial fanned’ bastard computer – a good computer and fairly fast and resource-filled but a bit slow when doing some of the work I’ve been doing), etc etc etc. I won’t bore you with any more specs.
Suffice to say it’s a pretty nice medium-range computer.
The hardest parts are 1) installing/copying stuff over from my old computer and backups and 2) figuring out which operating system I want to use.
The latter was the hardest.
On the one hand XP is well-established and frankly, I’m extremely familiar with it. It runs everything I want it to run. But XP can’t usually take advantage of even 4 gigs of RAM (this particular system combined with XP only uses 3.12 Gig of the available 4), and the availability of drivers can be extremely problematic; to say the least. Sometimes a particular XP driver can’t even be found for a newer system, or if it can it’s severely out of date. Or doesn’t support all of the features.
A good tip for finding drivers is to look at the manufacturer’s website for other countries where XP hasn’t been pushed out.
On the other hand Vista has come a long way with SP1 and the tweaks people have come up with. It’s modern, and does have some nice features. And it o course takes advantage of newer software and hardware. Plus the drivers are already there and installed. Downsides – it’s can still be annoying, lagged, and questionable. It’s big, bloated (like all Windows software). And a few programs here and there won’t run, older stuff.
I would either have to A) re-install a new OS and find sometimes-nearly-impossible-to-find drivers to work with it, THEN re-install all my stuff or B) optimize and hack Vista to make it work the way I want to.
I went back and forth for a few days. As I knew would happen ; finding drivers for this brand new system running XP was hard-to-impossible for some of the devices. I never did find one for the network card or SM Bus Controller.
At some point you have to re-evaluate things and how much time is going to be involved and, indeed, whether you can do something and still have a few strands of hair left afterward (and I can’t spare any).
I use Vista occasionally, for myself as well as customers; enough to know it annoys me. But never have I used it exclusively and for long periods of time.
Despite previous efforts to force myself to use it and tweak it and learn everything about it I never could stomach it long enough.
This time (through what I believe is an extreme force of will 😉 I sat down and started seriously using it (without the thought at the back of my mind that I really was going to go back to XP at some point).
As I said – SP1 has made it much better. Combining a few simple things like turning off UAC, Indexing, and various other miscellanea makes living with it much easier. Not to mention faster. Turning off the Aero theme is even better, even though this computer ran very fast with everything mentioned above turned on. I in fact turned off themes completely, not just switched to the classic theme.
I uninstalled and/or disabled a number of other things including a bunch of media desktop stuff, media sharing, little tray icons for this and that manufacturers install, dumped Norton (actually this was the very first thing I did), put on my own anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall software. And did a little registry hacking.
I continued (and continue) to dive into optimizing the system, getting rid of things that aren’t needed (like the many services).
Now the Vista system is (mind-blowingly surprising to me) very fast and compares very favorably to the speeds of Windows XP. Things blaze, the graphics are fast and smooth (Flight Simulator 2004 is beautiful, gorgeous and realistic – in fact I find myself getting motion sick while flying occasionally).
It came with an HP keyboard and mouse (optical, but slightly cheap-feeling – the Logitech I’ve had for years is discolored from many years of finger-rubbing and button-clicking but it’s solid and I can easily solder on new button switches when I [inevitably] wear one out once a year).
I’m not a big fan of multimedia keyboards (nor wireless keyboards and mice – though they are great for presentations). I tend to not use them, and people in general tend to not use the extra buttons after the initial fun of having them wears off. But I find myself actually using some of the functions on this one.
So far this has been a good computer and I’ve put it through its paces. We’ll see how it goes.