I’ve Got a New Baby!

12:03 pm PHT

I can’t think of a clever and witty rejoinder to that title so I’ll go straight to the point and announce that I bought myself a new computer! I’ve been meaning to buy one for a very long time since my 5-year-old AMD K6–2 500 MHz PC with its 64 MB of SDRAM and running Microsoft Windows 98 SE is now inadequate for my computing needs.

Mind you, that old PC served me well during my college years. Amazingly, I only had to reinstall Windows on it during the first year. The OS managed to survive futher re-installation, which is quite a rarity in Windows 98 PCs. Then again, I had to contend with the fact that starting its third year, the PC eventually hangs about 90% of the time. I figured the major hassle of reinstalling the OS and all the other programs I use is not worth the minor annoyance of rebooting the PC whenever it hangs.

I bought my new PC in two installments from the Alabang Town Center branch of PC Express. I bought everything but the hard disk, the optical disk drive, and the OS last May 15 and the rest on May 21. I haven’t bought an AVR and a monitor yet so I’m using the ones from my old PC. Why PCX ATC? It’s the only reputable PC store near my area that would likely have a complete stock of everything I need. The Gilmore shops in Quezon City are too far away and is out of the way from my office.

The Specs

Before you read the specs, please don’t comment saying that I should’ve bought this or I should’ve bought that. I’ve got my reasons why I bought these, the primary being the budget. My original target was about 25,000 pesos, but I found out that the resulting specs in that price range were unacceptable. So I bumped the budget up to 35,000 pesos. Anyway, shown below are the components of my PC along with their prices.

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 (2.4A GHz [Prescott core], 1 MB L2 Cache, 533 MHz FSB, PGA 478-pin package), PhP7,200

  • Motherboard: MSI 865PE Neo2-P Platinum Edition (Intel i865 chipset, 8x AGP slot, 5 PCI slots, 4 dual channel DDR 400 DIMM slots, 2 P-ATA IDE ports, 2 S-ATA IDE ports, 1 floppy IDE port, USB 2.0, Realtek 5.1 channel audio with S-PDIF out, Gigabit Ethernet LAN), PhP4850

  • RAM: 2 pieces generic DDRAM (256 MB, PC400), PhP2300

  • Video: Inno3D GeForce FX 5200 (nVidia GeForce FX 5200 GPU, 8x AGP interface, 128-bit data bus, 128 MB RAM, TV-out), PhP2850

  • FDD: Sony 3.25” 1.4 MB, PhP390

  • Case: AMP 7005 (300 W PSU, with bundled generic 104-key PS/2 keyboard, generic PS/2 scroll mouse, and generic amplified speakers), PhP1600

I normally would’ve chosen an AMD processor but I’ve heard horror stories about the heating problems on that CPU so I went with an Intel chip instead. It’s gets hot in my room so I really don’t want to go through the hassle of installing additional cooling fans and bumping up the power supply wattage to support those.

As for the OS, I still have to use some Windows programs with no comparable alternatives for Linux (like Edsamail), which my parents use; and don’t Wine about it) so I bought an original Windows XP Home Edition.

The Installation

The first weekend, I installed everything that can be installed. Since I haven’t bought a hard disk, and optical disk drive, and an OS that time, I only assembled the hardware and tested the BIOS.

Installing the motherboard to the case was a cinch. Installing the CPU was midly nerve-wracking on the other hand. The processor itself was easy. It was the CPU fan that gave me problems. While the illustrated instructions for installing the fan were easy to understand, doing it was not as straightforward. I aligned the two opposite ocrners of the heatsink and fan assembly to the motherboard and pushed it down. It seemed to have snagged somewhere because pushing down the levers didn’t feel right. (At this point, I read in the instructions the note that the CPU is only intended to be installed professionally. Oookay…) So the heck with it, I pushed and budged and heard a click that sounded suspiciously like glass breaking. I was afraid that I cracked the CPU or motherboard.

Next, I installed the video card, the casing light and switches (which despite being color coded and labeled, gave no indication as to their polarity), the memory modules, and the floppy drive. These were easy. Interestingly, the motherboard came with P-ATA and floppy IDE cables bunched up so that instead of being shaped like flat ribbons, they’re shaped like thick tubes, supposedly for improving airflow. (I wonder what effect bunching a ribbon up has on the capacitive interference among the cable’s wires.)

It seems that I installed everything up correctly (no broken CPU or motherboard, yay!) since the whole thing booted up fine and dandy. The video was okay and the memory modules were detected. I explored the BIOS and did some minor tweak-ups. (No, I didn’t touch the overclocking features.)

When I got the remaining components durng the second weekend, I installed the 80-GB hard disk and DVD-ROM drive, fixed some more BIOS settings and installed Windows XP. Installing Windows wasn’t difficult and I was up and running within 30 minutes.

The final step was to transfer everything that needed to be transferred from my old PC. I copied then needed files from my old PC to my Seagate 40 GB P-ATA disk and added that to the new system. Then I installed some more software.

The XPrience

Boy it’s fast! And it’s quite refreshing to be able to use the PC without expecting it to eventually hang on you. I added accounts for all my family and set them all to the Limited type. This way, nobody can install software behind my back (something my brother is known for doing). Also, finally, I can place all my confidential files safe from prying eyes because of XP Home’s rudimentary sharing and security features.

For the office suite, I used 1.1.4, which I downloaded for 3 ½ hours on a dial-up account. We’re mostly using OpenOffice in the office and it’s a very usable free alternative to Microsoft Office, so that’s what I decided to use at home, too.

However, is a bit jarring to use when you’re used to editing your files in MS Office. Many of the reflexive movements I’ve been using to edit my personal documents weren’t working in OOo. For example, the autocomplete feature in Calc (the spreadsheet app) messes up my use of the Tab key. In Microsoft Excel, the tab key always commits the entered content to the current cell and moves to the cell to the right. In OpenOffice, the Tab key cycles through the autocomplete possibilities. It’s small UI things like this that makes working quite distracting.

What I enjoy in the new OS is that it has a media viewer and Zip file support built right into Windows Explorer. The thumbnail and slideshow file view is particularly slick (makes browsing porn more efficient, hehehe), and I didn’t have to install WinZip anymore.

The first major hitch I had with XP is that Edsamail 1.4c didn’t work correctly in Limited user accounts. This was warned to end users by Microsoft so it’s not as if I didn’t expect this. But, I didn’t want to turn my parents’ user account into a Computer Administrator so I searched the Web for a solution. I encountered this page for solving the same problem but for a different application. Applying it to Edsamail seemed to work so I’m documenting the procedure in my next blog post so that others may benefit.

Anyway, I still have to set up ActiveState Perl and the Apache Web Server so that I can resume development on my Web properties; hopefully there are no hitches there. Windows’ built-in firewall seems to be working, although I don’t fully trust it (so what’s new?). And majority of the other applications I’ve been using on my old PC (like Winamp 2.72—yes, I’m that archaic) are up and running. Also, I have yet to install the printer and the scanner.

The Sounds

One thing I spent a lot of time on in my new PC is tweaking the audio settings. The output analog audio signal on the motherboard’s built-in sound system is much too soft. I already maximized the output volume in Windows but it was only as loud as the 70% volume on my old PC (using Creative un-amplified speakers). Normally this is not a problem since I could simply use amplified speakers, like the one bundled with the new PC’s tower case.

The problem is, the bundled speakers are absolute crap. First of all, the stereo signal became mono—adjusting the balance in Windows had no effect at all. Secondly, the sound fidelity sucks big time—the treble was tinny while the bass was too soft. Finally, the speakers heated up too much. So the bundled speakers were really not a good deal, and I was forced to use my old Creative speakers for the meantime and have to be contented with not being able to annoy the neighbors with thumb-thumping beats.

Anyway, I tried to push the volume up as much as I can. The audio system driver has built-in equalizer settings, which I used to max out the volume. No good: the sound became distorted. The same thing happens when using the equalizers on both Winamp and Windows Media Player. So, I guess I have no loud music for the meantime.

One good thing I can mention about the new audio system compared to the old one is that many processes can now pipe audio output at the same time. What’s annoying with my old PC is that only one program can use the audio at any given time (which really, really sucked).

The Ending

Kudos to you if you’ve managed to read through all that without falling asleep. Hopefully I didn’t bore you too much. (There’s absolutely no friggin’ way I can make talking about something this technical interesting enough.)

If you’re asking me what I call my new baby, I just simply set the hostname to “SEAV”; I really can’t be bothered to give inanimate objects affectionate names. And, no, I won’t refer to the computer as my baby from now on. That’s just for the purposes of this blog post.  :)

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