In my last post, I noted that I had broken my chain at 9 days, deliberately so but still a break. So I’m starting “series C” for my TIC posts. I also noted in the last post that one of the things I did before heading off on vacation was to drop my computer off for an upgrade.
A history of out of date hardware
I have a strange history with my computers, particularly given how much time I spend on them. I started messing with computers in high school, Commodore PETs at school and a simple VIC-20 at home. The C64 was out but I limped along with a simple V20. And my journey with “2nd or 3rd generation back” computers had started.
In university, I started using a PC at work, and while I was writing essays and stuff, I settled for a simple electric typewriter that had delusions of being a wordprocessor. The memory functions were rudimentary so I mostly just used it as a typewriter.
Decent, but hardly the latest and greatest version. In between first and second year, I upgraded to an IBM XT clone; the ATs were out, with the faster 80286 chips, but I settled for an 8088. I even ran DOS for awhile, programming my own BATCH menu that incorporated some elements from Lotus 1-2-3 menus and a shell system I saw on a BBS system. I could make it get up and dance, and I used the computer well past the arrival of WINDOWS 3.0.
I eventually upgraded to a Windows 3.0-capable machine, but barely capable. I could get it to do just about anything I wanted it to, albeit not necessarily the fastest or most efficient system. Windows 95 and even 98 arrived, but I kept running my old system. Eventually, it died and I had to upgrade, but I went for something that was WIN NT capable just as other, later versions of Windows were current. Again, a couple of years behind the curve, but functional.
Then about 4 years ago, I decided I needed a new computer and something with a bit of power. I had played with basic laptops and netbooks, but nothing super powerful, and I didn’t want to spend over $1000 if I could avoid it. It has been a constant theme with me. I generally get the most bang for my buck at a given price point — $1000-$1200. Almost every time I have bought a “new” system, I’ve gone in at that price.
This last time, I decided to go for refurbished. The bells and whistles I wanted were just too expensive to buy new, and if I did my REAL desired system, I’d be in the $2000 range. Nope, there’s a store in Bell’s Corners called The Trailing Edge and they specialize in tech that is NOT the bleeding/cutting edge, but a season or two back. Tested, functional, and cheaper. I splurged on an i7 chip and motherboard, semi-decent graphics card, some basic memory, and I was away to the races. I subsequently added two more hard drives — it came with 500GB, and I added another 500GB and then a 1 TB. But of late, with 2TB available, I was down to about 200GB of free space spread across the three drives. And running a mite slow.
I played with the idea of upgrading and going full laptop this time. We bought Jacob a laptop back in March for his “home schooling” options so he wouldn’t be confined to our office, and it is pretty sweet. We got a good deal on it at the time, large screen, gaming speeds, a definite option, but to be honest, I already had a laptop and a functional desktop. Why go to having TWO laptops, even if one of them is semi-permanently connected to my downstairs TV? Plus, J’s computer doesn’t have a ton of onboard storage at that price point, and with another bell or whistle, I’d be pushing the $2K mark again for what I wanted.
No, I like having my desktop, and I like having the power that goes with it. I just want a bit more speed and power. And this time I figured I would go for the gusto, even if I’m choosing to upgrade rather than buy new.
Configuring the upgrade
So my motherboard and chip set gives me an i7 setup with quad-core processing, and that is still more than plenty powerful enough for what I want to do.
I’m getting a bit more into video, but it’s not like I’m Spielberg or Lucas doing high-end special effects, most of the time I’m editing a video to remove some segments. An iPad can do most of that, to be candid. I considered upgrading from my 1050 graphics card (which is considered basic gaming capable) to the 1650 card, which comes with 4GB onboard instead of 2GB in my current card, but NONE of the video software that I’m using takes advantage of the onboard video, it all works its magic through the main processor. I could have added it for $220, but to what end? No, my money was directed elsewhere.
First and foremost, I wanted to switch from a hard disk drive (HDD) to an actual solid state drive (SDD). It’s like a hard drive made out of RAM, and they’re super fast. You basically put all your software on it so it loads super fast and it does … Firefox used to take 3-5 seconds to load when it wanted to load that is, and now it’s less than a second. Booting up from scratch requires the BIOS to load and then Windows to load, and while I can’t do anything about the speed of the BIOS really, Windows now loads in about 30 seconds instead of 3 minutes previously. I considered a simple 240GB drive which would have just held all my software or 500GB which would give me apps + some storage space for active files (like videos that I’m editing). I considered going all-in on a big 2TB SDD, but that was pushing the $300+ mark, and final pricing and availability couldn’t be confirmed. I settled for a 1TB drive, $190 or so, partitioned as 350GB for apps and configuration files with a bit of extra room, and 585GB for active files (most likely for anything video related, but I have some other projects I might want to store in there too). They open like lightning from that drive.
Second, I wanted more memory. I had 6GB installed, and there were times I was pushing that limit with some of the processing I’m doing for astrophotography. I upgraded it to 16GB for $60. It’s hard to benchmark the performance boost from that without doing a hard-core processing request, and that will take some time to get back setup and going because of step three.
Third, I had them completely do a fresh install of Windows 10. I’ve tried a lot of software over the years, and some of it just does not uninstall gracefully. Plus there are all the updates to Windows itself, blah blah blah. It was running slow before and I didn’t want them migrating it. I got them to install the new drive, move the other one out, and reinstall Windows from scratch. Crisp and clean and no caffeine. It was hard to believe that when I booted, I had NOTHING loading. Not my security software, not my internet setup, not my VPN, nada. Heck, I didn’t even have Office installed. A completely fresh install. Of course, that means a bunch of tweaks I did here and there were gone, but I can fix that as time goes on.
Fourth, the SDD drive is nice, but only 1TB, and once you put all the software in, not much more than 600MB left. With my other 1TB drive, I was only boosting my space by about 500MB, since I had to take a 500MB drive out to make room for the SDD. Instead, I had them take out the second 500MB drive, throw them in external enclosures so I can use them as backup drives / portable HDDs, and then fill that empty bay with a large internal HDD. Namely, I went for a full 6TB of space! It was about $300. I had the tech partition it for 2TB+2TB+ whatever was left, which is actually larger than expected. It comes out to almost 7TB by the time I’m done. So, I have:
- My main SD drive, 350GB with 300GB still free before I start installing all my apps;
- A second SD drive (partition), with 585GB free;
- A 1TB drive, which at the moment has stuff still on it but I’ll move it around;
- A 1.95TB drive;
- Another 1.95TB drive; and,
- A 3.37TB drive.
It seems crazy I know, until you realize that most of my high-end astrophotography uses either RAW format or large TIFF formats. It doesn’t take long before processing jacks the storage requirements for even a single night of imaging. A guy in our club did a huge mural, way more than I ever did, and the final picture file was almost 500GB in size. Crazy time. And to be honest? I seriously considered an 8TB drive. They have 12TB drives available, but that seemed like overkill.
But with great power comes great responsibility, namely to do backups regularly, and while I will do a lot of incremental backups, I wanted more speed. So I had them throw in a port for USB 3.0, something seriously lacking in the original system since it wasn’t available when this system first hit the market. I don’t need that speed all the time, but for about $50 I think, I had them add it.
They also did some other work under the hood, but that was the big breakdown. Oh, and I’ve been thinking of getting a new printer for my basement office, but I had them reconfigure my old HP laser printer that I bought back in 1995 — yes, you read that right — and they were able to get it working under Windows 10. Sweet.
There was also a bit of a crapfest story around dropping it off just before I left (waiting for a quote, confusion in communication about their hours of operation, rushing in at the last minute so they could upgrade it while I was away, picking it up today surrounded by some idiotic customers who had no clue what social distancing meant, etc.) but it isn’t worth relating. The important thing?
Today I choose to have an upgraded system that gives me enough power that I don’t have to simply limp along on some of the projects I’m doing. I actually have the power to do it fast and efficiently. No more workarounds. Well, at least not for a few years anyway.
What choices are you making with your day?