Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Upgrade, Part 1

First post from the new machine, woohoo!

As you can tell, I've got the new machine up and running in basic configuration under Windows Vista. So far, it's been fairly painless. So far.

First, the Hardware:
- the new machine is an HP m8100y series, configured as follows:
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 (2.66GHz)
- RAM: 3Gigs of 800MHz dual channel SDRAM (I've got another 2Gig sitting in anti static sleeve on my desk, I'll remove the 512MB DIMMS in block 2 and replace them with the 1Gig modules, giving the machine 4Gig total RAM)
- Graphics: 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8500GT, TV-out, DVI-I, HDMI (major overkill for me, but it came with the machine)
- Harddrive: 500GB 7200rpm SATA, 3Gbits per sec transfer rate
- Blu-ray writer/HD DVD player & Lightscribe SuperMulti DVD/CD Burner
- Crappy generic sound card (yeah, we'll be replacing that)
- Personal Media Drive dock (don't know if I'll ever use it or not, but there it is. You can purchase 500 and 750GB portable media drives from HP, might be useful, might not)
- and the usual bizillion-in-one card readers, USB 2.0/Firewire ports, digital video and sound out, and etc, etc, and so on.

Also bought a widescreen, 24" Norcent flatpanel monitor. Which I'm looking at right now in splitscreen mode and it just plain rocks! The color and clarity are incredible, and size does apparently matter.

Second, the Software:
Windows Vista Ultimate - 32bit.


First impressions. The machine is goddammed fast, no doubt about it, and much quieter than my old one. I wasn't sure the fans were running at first, had to shine a flashlight in the back just to make certain. I like quiet so I consider this a big plus. Vista is slick and glossy, not too shabby and I think I like it (remember: first impression here, first impression). I have to admit I really like the look and feel of Vista, though it may take a while to get used it for long habituated XP users. Microsoft has done some extremely cool things with the interface, and some incomprehensible things as well. For example, it took me ten minutes to figure out how to get a top level view of my system (i.e. the 'tree view' in Explorer XP) because for some reason it's hidden under a pull-up bar in the left pane of Explorer. I don't mind that it's under the pull-up bar, but it sure would have been nice if there was a label or something pointing to it - finding the display is like finding an Easter Egg on a DVD menu.


Aggravating things:

- I could not get the system to connect to the network/internet. Could not. Weird glitchy problems, I'd get no connectivity, then limited connectivity, then back to no connectivity. It was making me crazy. The control panel was showing the router, but nothing beyond it. I checked the cable half a dozen times, rebooted the machine, rebooted the router, ran the trouble shooting wizard - nada nada nada. You know me, I resort to violence as the first option, but somehow I kept my temper and eventually it occurred to me to move the cable to a different port on the back of the router. Viola! Instant connectivity. Apparently when the power supply fried on the old server, it zapped the router port too (talk about catastrophic failure mode). However, the other 7 ports are fine (and unused, because everything else in the house is 802.11g wireless). The router appears to be functioning fine in all other respects, so we'll do without port #1 and just move along. Obviously, this is my fault for not checking first, and had nothing to do with Vista or HP.

- User Account Control (UAC pronounced 'Yuck!'), what in the hell were they thinking with this utterly asinine nonsense? UAC is what happens when people and governments sue the crap out of companies like Microsoft for every little idiotic thing - and so lawyers end up integrated into the software development process. For those of you not familiar with UAC, basically it is the single most annoying thing I've ever seen. UAC opens a confirmation dialog box for everything, i.e. "are you sure you want to start this program?" "are you sure you want to connect to the internet" "are you sure you want to be sure that you're sure that..." ARRRGGGHH! Hate it, hate it hate it. Talk about overkill, and it doesn't learn either - i.e. if you start a program once, you shouldn't have to answer the same damned dialog box every time. For somebody like me, it's aggravating in the extreme, for someone who is afraid of computers (like my 74 year old dad) it's downright frightening - he doesn't know enough to make an informed decision, so he thinks he's done something wrong or dangerous every time he tries to start Solitaire (he's got Vista Basic on his new machine). Now, you can turn UAC off, but it's not obvious how to do it and the dialog box doesn't help you at all. Microsoft's lawyers don't want you turning it off (but I'll bet you good money that it's turned off on every Vista box in Redmond). Like I said, you can disable it, and I did (and called my dad and told him how to do it), but I cannot imagine how anybody thought this was a good idea. Bad, Microsoft, bad! No biscuit.

- Norton Internet Security 2007 is not compatible, at least not the version I have. You need the Vista version. Argh!


Cool things:

- Hardware recognition: After making sure the machine was fully functional as purchased, and doing the requisite updates of Vista and the new version of Norton's, I opened it up and installed the 500GB SATA data drive from the old machine. The machine booted right up and I wasn't fast enough to F2 it into the BIOS Configuration page to set the parameters of the new drive (with a SATA drive this really isn't necessary, but it's a new machine and I like to check). Didn't matter, Vista immediately recognized that there was a new drive in the system, checked it's library for the proper driver, installed it automatically, updated the BIOS, and brought the new drive on-line without any effort on my part. Very cool. Same with two additional drives. So now the machine has 2TB of disk space and that ought to do for a while.

- Hardware recognition: Vista immediately recognized the Norcent monitor as a widescreen HD flat panel and recommended 1680x1050 resolution, which I accepted. The video is incredible. Once I get things up and running a little further, I'll show you some pictures.


Software update:
- First thing I did after upgrading the drives was download and install Firefox. Works great under Vista, I downloaded my usual slew of add-ons and a new one, Split Panel, which allows me to split my FF display into panels, which on the wide screen is pretty dammed cool.

- Vista needed a 66MB load of updates, and if you upgrade to Vista I highly recommend you do those updates right away. The updates fix a lot of the bugs people have been complaining about, so it's worth your time and bandwidth.


Things to do next:
- Upgrade the RAM to a full 4GB
- Install Another USB 2.0 card, the machine has six ports, but I need a least 8.
- Hook up and install the peripherals, 3 printers, 2 scanners, the WD external backup drive, the Pinnacle Video Box, camera, digital sound system, the GPS interface, etc
- Begin the software installation process, Office, Photoshop, DesignCAD, Corel, sigh
- Enable and configure the shared volumes
- Enable and configure the shared printers
- Import the music and video libraries into WMP, I'm definitely interested in how long this takes. I've got upwards of 420GB of music files, all super tagged, and on the old machine the import took about 7 hours. This machine has double the bus speed and the 4 core processor, and much faster throughput off the SATA drives, so I'm expecting a major improvement (fortunately, I only have to do this once, unless, you know, I have to buy another machine someday).

Additionally, I'm still working on outlines to two different books, and about chest deep in a research project.

As you can see, I've got things to do. And I've to get it done no later than by this evening, tomorrow morning at the latest. Thursday morning I'm starting writing full time come hell or high water. I'll post periodic updates of the upgrade process as I go along. See you in a bit.


  1. Just passing through. I brought the same computer with similar configuration. The machine is extremely quiet compared to my jet engine sounding cica 2001 Dell.

    Just a few caveats I found about it. The case is extremely cramped especially with the Personal Media drive in and my huge nvidia 8800GTS. The airflow is somewhat restrictive, monitor your cpu temp with Core Temp closely. It helped for me to remove the Media drive bay and keep the door open. Though I may spring for a new case soon.

    I wouldn't rush into upgrading to 4GB of RAM. 32-bit windows can only address 3 gigs of it so it may not be worth the effort.

    see here: 32-bit-windows-and-4gb-of-ram

    64-bit windows would be the answer but the driver support at this point is pretty poor. Good luck!

  2. Alan, yeah I agree with your assessment of the case size, could be a bit roomier that's for sure. Like you I may remove the personal media bay, I doubt I'll ever use it. We'll see. So far everything I needed to get in there I have.

    That reason I didn't go with the 64-bit version of vista was precisely because of the driver issue. So far the 32-bit Ultimate looks like it does everything I need. I stuck in the 4G off RAM just because I already had it, and it seemed a shame to leave it sitting in a box on the self. You're right though, Vista32 doesn't address it all. That's okay for now. So far I'm pretty exceptional happy with the machine's performance.


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