Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Volume 2, Number 16: New Adventures in Computing

(Note: This is a re-posting of an entry I made in early June 2007 on a Yahoo! GeoCities blog.)

It seems like every time I try to upgrade or fix a computer, I come across some "fly in the ointment" that I never expected.

I just bought a new computer, a Dell Dimension E520 with a Pentium D 2.8GHz dual core processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, an 80GB SATA hard drive (I know, it's kind of small, but I've never used more than 40GB in my life, and I usually copy stuff like MP3s to CDs and delete them off the hard drive to save space) and Windows Vista (Home Premium edition). I briefly mentioned it in my previous entry. I feel I got a very good deal for the $500 I spent, and I'm having a ball with it (now that I've fixed the problems I mention below).

The first "fly in the ointment" was this: I was expecting to transfer the DVD burner from my old computer, a Compaq Presario S3200NX, to the Dell. Oh, it's doable, but not as simple as I expected. The DVD burner uses the Enhanced IDE interface, which was the industry standard back in the '90s; however, the motherboard in the Dell expects me to use Serial ATA drives. It boils down to a classic case of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Fortunately, there are adapters available on eBay that allow EIDE drives to be used like SATA drives, and I just bought one for $8. But when I ordered that DVD burner last year, it was with the idea that I could transfer it into the new computer--after all, the computer industry had been using IDE for over a decade.

Another hitch is Windows Vista itself:
  • It initially rejected one third-party application called XnView (a picture file viewer/editor) that ran flawlessly on the previous operating system, Windows XP. I found a couple of fixes on XnView's message boards, and it runs fine now.
  • Also, the only way I can use WebEx (an online conferencing program that GM uses) in Vista's version of MS Internet Explorer is if I disable the "Protected Mode" in IE's Internet Security Settings. (I found this out as part of a desperate, last-gasp effort to get WebEx to work; later, a WebEx tech support guy from India confirmed that I do have to disable the Protected Mode.) I know, that sounds scary, but sometimes you have to work around problems (at least until Microsoft and/or WebEx figure out how to solve them). I was not about to put a new computer on the shelf on account of not being able to run one lousy application (albeit one integral to my job).

These problems reminded me of a few past episodes where my computer threw me a curveball or two:

  • In the early '90s, I bought a 3.5-inch high density floppy disk drive for my PC XT computer. Problem is, it would not read 1.44MB disks--it would only read and format 720KB disks. Why? Well, I also needed a newer floppy drive controller card and an AT motherboard. To make matters even more frustrating, you could not fit an AT motherboard into an XT case.
  • In 1999, I needed to replace the motherboard in my computer. Problem was, the original motherboard was no longer available, and the new motherboard required a new kind of video card (because it had an Advanced Graphics Port slot), so in addition to replacing the motherboard, I had to replace the video card as well, even though the video card I had before was perfectly good.
  • More recently, in 2001, I tried upgrading the CPU in my computer from a Pentium 233MHz chip to an AMD K62-400MHz one. I bought a chip from a seller on eBay and when I installed it, I got some error message ("Windows Protection Error," I think it was), even though I set every jumper correctly. The seller said he had used it on desktop computers before with no problem, but when I checked with AMD, they said no, that version of the K62-400 was made for laptops. The same thing happened with another chip that I bought from another seller--he said it worked fine in a desktop he had and that I must have done something wrong. I was able to return both chips and get my money back (minus shipping/handling charges), but I had given up on the do-it-yourself CPU upgrade project at that point. I bought an HP Pavilion at CompUSA (it had a Celeron 800MHz chip--twice the speed that my upgrade would have provided, but it cost me more than 10 times what the CPU upgrade would have cost).

Back to the Dell--I hope to have it for a very long time. The Compaq did its job well for three years, but like many computers over the years, it became the victim of the following cycle: Computers get faster and more powerful; software companies decide to put more bells and whistles in their programs to take advantage of the new technology, and as a result, older computers don't handle the newer software very well.

Besides, the Compaq had been giving me a number of software bugs (like getting a message that Windows Media Player can't open an MP3 file when I double-click on it, and the only way to solve that problem was to reboot the computer; also, in Outlook, I would not be able to send a message or reply to a message unless I first exited and re-started Outlook--bottom line, it was time).

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