New computer... and I hate it

, posted: 17-May-2006 20:53

a new computer not so long ago

I finally got around to assembling various bits and pieces into a new computer system as I thought it was high time to move away from old tech like DDR memory and AGP video cards.

Not that there was much wrong with the old box, even in 2006. With a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, 1GB DDR-400 RAM, a 120GB Maxtor SATA-I drive and a 128MB ATI RADEON 9800 card BIOS hacked to a PRO it performs just fine for most tasks. The Antec Sonata case I put the lot in is very very quiet, thanks in no small part to the Zalman passive heatsink cooler for the video card and the Gigabyte Rocket CPU cooler.

But, the Soyo 875 Dragon 2 motherboard became unsupported early on in its product life, and desperately needs a BIOS update to deal with niggles like the inability to run the optical drive on the Primary IDE channel while booting off a SATA HD. You have to set the optical drive on the secondary IDE channel instead. Furthermore, the onboard sound sucks and the USB circuitry has never been very happy with Windows XP. Despite some very good CPU cooling, the Soyo board is as overclockable as a rock.

The new box has a Gigabyte 955 board instead with an Intel 3.2GHz dual core CPU and 1GB of Mushkin DDR-2 PC5300 RAM; not the latest and greatest, but it multitasks much nicer than old box and without all the accumulated crud, Windows XP and SuSE 10 run stunningly fast.

Asetek Vapochill Micro
Better yet, thanks to the above beast, a Vapochill Micro CPU cooler from Asetek in Denmark, I'm able to have both a quiet system yet overclock the CPU rather nicely. At the nominal speed of 3.2GHz, the onboard temp sensors reckon the CPU is at 35C.

Whacking up the clock frequency to 4.3GHz, the temp goes up 45-55C depending on the load, which is pretty good considering the big overclock. The Vapochill Micro is almost perfect: it's not that heavy, and it performs really well without the need for loud, high-speed fans or liquid cooling.

On the downside is the large size of the Vapochill Micro, which interferes with the voltage regulator add-on card for the Gigabyte motherboard and the flimsy plastic fan shroud. Due to the technology which requires the heat-conducive material to flow in a specific direction, you are also limited as to how you can situate the Vapochill.

It works the best in desktop cases where you can turn the cooler around to accommodate surrounding components. In tower cases like my Coolermaster one, you've got just one position to choose from which is a shame. If you can live with that however, I can thoroughly recommend the Vapochill Micro as it's available for around 27 Euro retail. It also comes with different fan alternatives, but unless you're the Mad Overclocker, stick with the quietest one as it provides ample cooling without ear-splitting whine.

All in all, the new box is fast and should have enough oomph to deal with Vista betas, although I'm not sure if it'll handle the final version of course when it comes out sometime next year.

So... why don't I like it? Well, it's got none of my accumulated crud on it. All the tools and weird rubbish that I've collected over the years are not there. I had almost forgotten how barren and nasty Windows XP is without tweaking and additional software.

I tried to shift stuff over with the help of the Windows File and Settings Migration tool, but that was a fiasco. The data was copied over OK, but none of the apps like Office 2003, Firefox, Thunderbird, you name it, worked. The shortcuts were all broken and the few that weren't refused to start the apps because they weren't registered with the OS properly. OK, it was probably a bit too optimistic of me to expect this to work but one has to try things, right?

Have to say though that migrating the config files from an earlier SuSE installation was a lot easier. I just tarred up all the dot files in the home directory of the old drive, sent them over via the network to the new system and that was it; a little bit of editing was required, but not much pain at all.

I know the mantra that installing a-fresh is good, so there's no need to repeat it. The problem with that on the Windows side of things is that it's not as easy as it seems. It would be, if Windows kept the user data separate enough, to allow a similar copying over operation as the *NIXes do. As it is, most Windows users who use their computers to earn money would rather gouge their eyes out with a rusty teaspoon than upgrade them, and I can understand why. Getting a new Windows box whipped into shape takes a long, long time, and that's something Microsoft hasn't addressed much at all.

Update: mega-giga hurts confusion fixed. Thanks AJ.

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