pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Now that I’ve had my computer for a week, I’ve noticed that the fans are not as silent as I had thought. But they’re still fairly quiet, and I only hear them rarely (and most commonly in the evenings when it’s quiet)—mostly, I tune out their sound. So that’s all right.

And 4 GB really seems to be enough; I’ve noticed after playing The Sims 3 that the memory curve never even gets close to 100%, so I’ve taken to no longer closing down other programs (even Firefox, which can turn into a bit of a memory hog if it’s been running for a while).

And a lot of things seem quite a bit faster—including, oddly enough, Internet file transfers, though the DSL connection hasn’t changed.

And the fact that it has four real cores means that Mozy configuration, even if it chews CPU on startup sometimes, can’t hang my computer the way it used to, but at most one of the cores, while the others remain responsive.

I heart my PC.

No network?

Sunday, 14 March 2010 06:19
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Woke up this morning, switched on the computer - no network connection. (Well, only my VirtualBox Host-Only Network, but that doesn't get me onto the Internet.) As in, it didn't even recognise that there was a network hanging off my network adapter, not even a LAN.

Took the network cable out (not easy in the confined space in that part of the case!) and put it back in - no dice. Looked up Driver Manager - no yellow exclamation mark. Disabled the network chip and re-enabled it - and things worked again.

Still, I hope it's not going to make a habit of that.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

There was a Slashdot thread on selecting components for a new computer, which led me to several hardware reviews.

And I found it really uncanny that Tech Report’s March Recommendation picked pretty much exactly what I ordered! Specifically, their “Utility Player” system (for a ~$800 price point) has an i5-750 CPU, 4 gigs of RAM, an XFX Radeon HD 5770, on-board sound, and a 500W PSU (well, mine has 550W). And their suggested alternatives page has a Samsung SpinPoint F3 1TB. So that’s mostly my system; the main difference being my motherboard (GIGABYTE GA-P55M-UD2 vs. their Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD3 recommendation).

Kinda bizarre to see so many matches. Anyway, I like to think that shows that it’ll likely be a decent setup—and will probably last me a for a while (i.e. it’s probably five notches too powerful for what I need now :D). Which is yet another reason to upgrade to 8GB RAM when I can afford it, so that that component will also be five notches more than I need ;-)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Starting to get a bit worried about my computer. It went into production on Monday, so I would have expected it to ship by Tuesday at the latest.

Today’s Wednesday, and there’s still no sign of it. I called them up at about half-past five (shortly before they closed for the day at six) to inquire, and the chap on the phone said he’d need to look up something, could he call me back? I left my mobile phone number with him and he said he’d get back to me soon.

Well, close of business has come and gone, and I still have no news.

Stella says she’s starting to worry they’re in the nocturnal aviation business and will simply take our money and not deliver the goods (and I wondered, briefly, whether I should have sent the money via my VISA card so that I could have, perhaps, disputed the charge with them). But that’s not the impression I got from reading their forum and a couple of other places on the Internet (let alone the test in c’t magazine); there were some disgruntled customers who had to wait too long for a machine because parts (especially higher-end graphics cards) were not available in a timely manner, or who had an encounter with an unfriendly employee on the phone, or whose computer needed to be repaired several times—but nobody who even intimated that they never got what they paid for.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

So, I got an email today at 12:15 telling me that my computer had gone into production. Whee!

Looking into my account, it appears that the status change was already at 10:30.

It’s evening, now, and I still haven’t got a message telling me it’s been dispatched, though. Meh :( On the other hand, when I had phoned to inquire how long it would typically take to get here, the chap on the phone said that if work started on it today, it could be finished “today or tomorrow”, so things are still on track, I suppose. (Shipping usually took “one to two days”, he said.) So we shall see when it arrives.

I had an idea today to call the computer “Alma”. Everyone gets to pick whether they want the Nephite meaning, the German/Latin one, the Spanish one, the Crimean Tatar one, or the Hebrew one.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Apparently, my new computer should be ready to ship on Monday. Yay! I can hardly wait!

New computer

Wednesday, 3 March 2010 14:13
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

So, I decided on a new computer. They had a different CeBIT offer today, again with an i5 750, so I went with that.

€60 more expensive once I added the operating system, so I stayed with 4 GB RAM. I did add a second optical drive, though; it’s handy to be able to keep a disc in one (RO) drive and still have the burner free for other things.

Paid in advance; the money should be there tomorrow, after which it’s supposed to take them “1–3 days” to assemble and ship it.

Whee!


Also, I think I need a name for the new computer. Any suggestions? What do you all call your computer(s), if you give them names, and why?

i5 or Athlon?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010 19:29
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I kind of wish they hadn’t told me in the forum thread that the processor of my chosen system is “not the fastest one”, and suggested a config with an Intel i5 that my colleagues had mentioned.

Because the ability to scale up frequency if fewer cores are used sounds rather tempting, given that I imagine most of the time, only two of the cores will be in use (and one of those by the anti-virus running in the background…). On the other hand, such a system costs about €100 more, and I think I’d rather spend those on extra RAM.

At the moment, I’m leaning towards buying what I had originally intended, with the better graphics card (5770 instead of 5750), and with 8 GB RAM instead of 4 right off the bat. So it’ll be an AMD Athlon II at 4×2.66 GHz rather than an Intel i5 750 at 4×2.66 GHz or an AMD Phenom II at 4×3.2 GHz… but at the moment, I have a Core 2 Duo running at 1.8 GHz, so either way, I’ll be getting a higher frequency and more cores, which (I imagine) means the system will be faster anyway. And I’ve never really felt CPU power to be a limiting factor, except when compressing large files, which I don’t do every day.

Meh. The pull between “what you want” and “what you need”, not to mention “what you can afford”!

At least, Stella has offered to pay for the bulk of the computer from our shared money (her original offer had been €600, followed by €600 plus half of the additional cost with a maximum of €100 extra) and to lend me the extra money and let me pay it back from my pocket money.

So, depending on how much my pocket money will be the next few months (it varies a bit with our income), I’d be looking at about two to four months’ worth.


…I just saw that they have a special offer (today only… something about the CeBIT computer fair) of €80 off on a system with an Intel i5 processor! It costs more in the base system, partly because of the ATI HD 5850 graphics card (which would probably take ages to arrive, anyway), but once you configure it to a similar state, I’m looking at a price that’s even a bit lower! … oh wait, that doesn’t come with an operating system. If you include that, it’s nearly exactly €60 more expensive than my system.

Still, the difference in cost is lower… I’m tempted.

On the one hand, I’ve heard that AMD processors are “faster” (in the amount of work they can do) than Intel processors at the same frequency, but I don’t know whether that’s still the case… and on the other hand, we have TurboBoost on the Intel side.

Decisions, decisions….

New computer

Monday, 1 March 2010 17:25
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I shall probably go with a ready-made computer rather than building it from parts; I think that the extra peace of mind of knowing that I can send it to someone for repairs rather than have to figure out what’s wrong and replace the part myself will be worth the extra money I pay for it.

I’ve tentatively settled on Grey Computer Cologne: they offer quite a wide variety of base PCs that you can modify by adding or replacing components; they have a 5-year warranty on their machines (with free shipping in the first 3 of those); and they say whose manufacturer’s components they include (e.g. Samsung memory) rather than just saying “1 TB HDD” or whatever and then sourcing from the lowest bidder.

I’ve read around a little bit and found some good reviews and some bad ones, but not so many bad ones to put me completely off them.

Another point in their favour is their forum, where people can discuss things (such as “Where is my machine! It’s been four weeks now!”), and they even have forums where volunteers provide configuration suggestions! So you can either say, “I’d like a machine to do X, Y, and Z, and I don’t want to spend more than €N on it” and let someone configure together a sample machine they think will do what you want within your budget, or you could say, “I’m thinking of buying a machine with components X, Y, and Z; does that sound right?” and have them tell you whether your power supply is over-specced or they’d recommend the slightly-more-expensive case because it’s easier to cool or whatever. I asked a question there with the configuration I had in mind and got a couple of suggestions (for example, that 8 GB RAM is probably overkill for my purposes and 4 GB should be just fine, and that I should perhaps instead invest some of the difference in a better graphics card [which, I later found out, tends to be a bit more quiet than the one I had originally had in mind, so that’s good, too!]), which I’ll probably bear in mind should I end up buying from them.

One interesting thing: this computer will probably be about 1000 times “better” than my first PC that my father bought for me when I started my apprenticeship: that one had a 486SX running at 25 MHz, with 8 MB of RAM (at a time when most machines had 4 MB, and I was later glad that I had the extra memory) and 130 MB of HDD (which got upgraded to 2×130 MB fairly quickly). The one I’m looking at has 1 TB HDD (so, about 4000 times as much), 4 GB of RAM (unless I change my mind and do get 8… the parallel of “8 GB at a time when most machines had 4 GB, and I later ended up being grateful I had more” is a bit appealing, though the difference is about €100; 500 or 1000 times as much); and 4×2.6 GHz (so, theoretically about 400 times as much). The biggest difference is in processor frequency, which hasn’t scaled as quickly as the other numbers (HDD and RAM).

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

So, I’ve been considering getting a new computer sometimes this year. (Stella just got a new laptop a couple of weeks ago to replace her previous computer.)

Most of the time, I use my computer to browse the web, so I don’t need too much horsepower, but some better graphics than I have now would be nice so that I can play The Sims 3 with a bit more graphical effects. Plus I definitely want more RAM; my current non-expandable 2 GB under Vista feels a bit little and I’m usually running around 65% with just my normal complement of windows open, even before starting, say, The Sims 3. Another factor is that the computer should last me at least two years, perhaps three, before our family’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance; Treasury Secretary) will OK funds for another computer.

So I’m currently considering an ATI Radeon HD 5750 or 5770 (which apparently have quite lower power consumption than comparable nVidia chips such as the GT 240, and decent power consumption under low load, which will be most of the time); an Intel i5-5xx; and 4 GB RAM (preferably 6 or even 8).

Unfortunately, I have no real idea where to look for computers; there are surely hundreds of places that offer pre-built computer systems for sale. A co-worker had said that there had been a test of some systems in a recent issue of c’t and that the Medion computer had looked decent; I looked it up at home and it did seem fairly good, perhaps even a bit over-powered. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on Medion’s web site. In the same issue of c’t, there was also a list of components for a recommended, quiet configuration, but I’m not sure I want to assemble a computer myself.

Also unfortunately, the machines I’ve found so far that match the specs I had above cost between 700 and 1000 euros (including Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; the high end when I look at 8 GB RAM as opposed to 4 GB and perhaps a couple of component upgrades such as better(?) fans compared to the base system or a second hard and/or optical drive); Stella had said I could look at spending on the order of 600.

Does anyone have any suggestions or recommendations? Though I’m afraid that experiences from people in other countries might not be easily transferrable here, especially recommendations for online shops—for example, I’ve heard newegg.com recommended occasionally for people shopping for parts, but I don’t know whether they’d ship to Germany or whether the postage would make it worthwhile even if they did. So I might well be on my own, unless one of my German readers has any thoughts?

Still, perhaps there could be recommendations for components to prefer or avoid. Or things to look out for in, say, CPU and case fans. I really have no idea what to look out for there. Ditto with motherboards.

Again, if I had to summarise my profile, it would probably be "office/Internet, some light gaming". So, I don’t need the latest and greatest graphics card and processor, but a pre-built machine with an nVidia GT 210 would probably not make me happy, either. Built-in flash card reader (at least SD and CF) would be nice, too.

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Philip Newton

June 2015

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