Timeline of a PC upgrade

The last upgrade: late 2004, when I was given a development AMD FX-53 CPU. I had to get a new motherboard because at the time I was using an older AMD CPU with a different pin configuration. The new motherboard (an ABIT Third Eye with on-the-fly overclocking ability) featured then-new DDR RAM, so I got new RAM as well: 1GB of OCZ Platinum Edition with a lifetime warranty so I could overclock the CPU safely. I kept my current AGP video card. Several months later, I upgraded the video card to an ATI X1600 Pro and have had this setup ever since.

I ended up never overclocking the hardware.

Fast-forward to several months ago, when I started detecting a dangerous feeling of inadequacy as my computer gaming friends were upgrading their computers. Previously, I’d been the owner of the fastest computer at our LAN parties, but I’d fallen well behind the times. Losing the bragging rights didn’t bother me much, nowhere near as much as knowing I was basically unable to play the latest computer shooter games like Crysis and Fallout 2. So when the mediocre reviews came out for these games I felt a bit justified in waiting so long.

In the meantime, about a year ago, I’d bought a faulty (RRoD) Xbox 360 off eBay, plus all the cables, etc., to make it work. Microsoft told me it’d never been registered, so they fixed it for free (yay! very cool). I’d purchased a grand total of two games for it (Forza 2 and Colin McRae: Dirt) but that was it, I hadn’t played it for several months by the end of the year.

Towards autumn I decided I’d have to start doing a bit of research to find out what was going on in the world of PC upgrading. This is when I found out about DDR2, DDR3, AM2, AM2+, socket 775, i7 and much more. I already knew about PCI-E so hey at least I could skip learning about that.

Basically I found out that I couldn’t upgrade just the CPU because the 939 chip die was basically obsolete now. Upgrading the DDR RAM would cost 2 or 3 times as much as getting new DDR2 RAM, and there was no way I could upgrade the AGP video card to a PCI-E…it became clear that a completely new set-up would be required: RAM, CPU and motherboard, plus video card. Luckily I already had a PCI-E video card from a home theater PC that never got finished, but it’s only as fast as my current AGP card – but it’ll do until I could afford a whiz-bang PCI-E card.

After carefully considering things, I came up with a long checklist of features:

  • best bang-for-the-buck CPU (fastest for the money)
  • dual- or quad-core (didn’t matter which, I do enough multi-tasking to justify a quad-core)
  • 4GB of RAM that’s safe to overclock
  • PCI-E 2.0 spec, for a bit more PCI bus speeds
  • easily overclocked and updated motherboard
  • ATX size to fit in my current case

Not a terribly long list but some of these requirements would push up the cost from what could have been quite cheap.

Finally, the time would come. Just a couple of weeks ago, I decided to trade in my unused, dust-collecting Xbox 360 and get store credit from a nationwide chain of stores that buy and resell video games, consoles, hardware, etc. The £120 I would get (according to their site) would pay for an Intel Core 2 Quad processor (used) – ideal!

So…here, the story truly begins:

Friday, the 19th February: pop down to the local mall to trade in the 360 console, hard drive, power adapter, video cable, wireless joypad, headset and some games. I’m told they can’t take the console without an official Microsoft video cable, so I hand over everything and say fine, just give me the credit. £64 store credit, to use online or in the store. Cool. I go home, get on the store’s website and order a video cable – £1.50 but the minimum purchase is £2 so I order a PC copy of Colin McRae: Dirt for another £6.

The following Tuesday I receive the replacement video cable.

Thursday, the 27th of February: pop down to the mall (again paying £2 for parking) and hand over the console with new (used) video cable. Am told the store can’t take consoles without the controller. To avoid strangling everyone in site I ask to talk to ‘the tall guy’ who is the store manager. He remembered me from the previous week and sorts out something so that I can trade in the console and they use a wired controller from their stock. I forget about reminding him that I traded in a wireless controller to avoid any further pain. I walk across the street while the console is tested. I come back 15 minutes later to the news that they can’t take my console because the video cable doesn’t work. To avoid strangling everyone in site I mention the cable came from the store’s online site and I’ll just have to deal with returning it to them.

The next day, Friday, I send an email to the company telling them about the faulty cable and I get a reasonably quick reply telling me their returns policy. They’ll even pay for the return postage, which is nice of them. I decide that since today is payday I’ll go ahead and order the 4GB of OCZ Reaper RAM (with not just aluminum heatsinks, but heatpipes with additional heatsinks) and a Gigabyte motherboard, plus a PCI-E power adapter for the future video card purchase. Total cost is about £160 from ebuyer. Later that day, I receive an email saying my order is processed and ready for delivery, expected delivery date is Monday.

Monday, the 2nd of March: receive the motherboard and RAM, woohoo! A fire alarm forces out of the building and I regret not taking my fresh new parts with me to the safety area, just in case it was a real fire. I decide that I’m getting a bit impatient so I decide to use my credit voucher to order the Core 2 Quad CPU from the exchange store site, but the buggering thing is out of stock. Besides, in order to claim the voucher online, one must order the part online then MAIL the voucher receipt to the company for a credit to the order. How Web 0.9! I go back to trusty ol’ ebuyer.com to place an order for a new CPU.

Tuesday, the 3rd of March: send off the faulty cable with all the documentation the company require and sit and wait.

Wednesday, the 4th: receive the new CPU and a couple of other small bits, but I have no time to work on the new build after work as I have to go gaming (actual, face-to-face gaming). I start transferring the last MP3 files to spare hard drives and set off. When I return I find that there’s some problem and only about 25% have transferred. Great. Start the transfer again.

Thursday: wake up, only about 20% of the remaining files have transferred. Try transferring again. Do some quick addition and subtraction and realize I don’t have enough hard drive space to do the install. Ack! Let the computer rest for the night while I think and scheme. Borrowed an SATA to USB adapter from work to hopefully speed up things. Meanwhile, I’m told that if I really want to use the 1GB video card I want to get, while still utilizing the 4GB of RAM I have now, I’ll need a 64-bit OS, meaning buying 64-bit Vista. That’s another £80 or so of unexpected spending there.

Friday: Get home from work and the laptop is now full to bursting with MP3s. The 20GB drive won’t fille up more than 10GB for some reason and the 120GB drive that could be my saviour isn’t getting recognized by my laptop or the desktop. Decide that I could try transferring the files at work or try temporarily installing XP to the 120GB (if it is recognized), transfer files to it and that would be fine. I also decide that instead of ordering the 8-pin 12v plug adapter I need to get the motherboard to work I’ll just pop into an electronics store during the weekend.

Sunday: get the power adapter while out of town. Get home, and can’t find it. Dammit! Where the hell is it?! Hook up the new motherboard to the 120GB drive just to have something to do.

Monday (today): look one final time in my room and the car…no idea where that damn cable is!! If I left it out of town I’m considering buying a whole new one (just £2.50) so I can at least have something to work with on my half-day holiday this Wednesday. And I still haven’t heard back from the shop with my faulty video cable.

I’m on Pownce

Yeah, internet nerds and techie geeks, I’m on Pownce. It’s basically a social network aggregator, sort of like Twitter, it has links to my other ‘social’ sites like Facebook and Myspace and is set up to be a quick blogging platform for short posts and posting things like ‘I’m watching such-and-such right now’ or ‘I’m going out to eat’, etc.

I know it sounds kind of lame if you’re not into that sort of thing, but it’s been invite-only for ages and just recently became open to sign up.

So if anyone else is on there, look me up or sign up and then add me 🙂

RIP Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax, considered the father of role-playing games, died last week. Whether or not you care for or ever played Dungeons & Dragons, it’s very likely that if you’ve watched movies or TV in the past 2 or 3 decades your life has somehow been touched by someone who was inspired by this guy’s work.

I’ve been playing D&D and other role-playing games (RPG’s) in some form or another since I was 13 or so, and I still play pretty much every week. It’s no longer a massive obsession for me, but it’s still a big part of my life.

Wired has a great article about Gary, with more stuff about Gary to come.

Want! 3D gaming!

A Phd student at Carnegie Mellon University has written software that allows game developers to combine a Wiimote and UV LED’s into a 3D game world! Basically this means you can duck and move to see new targets/things and dodge things that are chucked at you, like missiles and buildings.

Check it out here, skip to 2:20 on the timeline if you just want to see it in action.

Anything but an iPod

As a firm believer that iPod freaks are…well…freaks, I’m so very glad I stumbled onto a site called Anything but iPod.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve owned a first-generation iPod Shuffle (gave it away) and have looked at the 80gb iPod with video and such, but when it comes down to it there are some problems I have with the iPod in general:

  1. you basically have to use iTunes to use it, and I don’t like iTunes because:
    1. the way it handles album folders is crap, I like my own way to do it
    2. AAC-formatted doesn’t play on most other devices
  2. iPods won’t sync on more than one computer
  3. DRM is rife on it, and I don’t like DRM
  4. you can’t replace the battery on your own unless you want to void your warranty and take up soldering (which I wouldn’t mind doing but 99% of iPod owners won’t do this)
  5. you have to replace the battery about once a year
  6. those stupid proprietary plugs, so you can’t charge an iPod with anything but an iPod charging cord
  7. no radio included, and EVERY other MP3 player out there includes an FM radio
  8. and possibly most of all, everyone and their freakin’ mother (literally) has an iPod. I actually know a guy who bought the current top of the line 80gb iPod just because ‘there’s no other choices’

So I’m glad I have a Creative Zen Micro, old school, without color screen and with a 4gb hard drive. I’d like to upgrade it but really, it does the job for me and I don’t need something to show off pictures, because my N95 does the job for that. Bigger screen, and it can take the pictures and play music as well. In fact, if I don’t want to take my Zen with me I just listen to music on my phone – I put in a 2gb Micro SD card and can fit it with a 4gb card if I wanted.

First thing I did on the Anthtingbutipod.com site? Click the link on the right for the Zen. First post I looked at? How to upgrade the micro hard drive to a 16gb Compact Flash (CF) card.

Super. Sweet.

Step-by-step instructions, with pictures, parts lists and firmware file links. Can’t beat it!

Looks like I have another project to put on my ‘to-do’ list.