Monday, April 25, 2005

Computer Upgrade.


Spent most of Sunday night (Monday morning actually) taking apart D.'s computer and putting it back together again. Literally.

This is going to be mainly a geek post, so feel free to skip down past the tech stuff..


***

Unlike me, D. does not use her home computer extensively. More like a couple times a month to pay bills and occasionally to check emails or hit a website or two. Not what you would call a power-user by any means.

< geek >

Preliminary survey of the setup showed it to be in bad shape. P3 processor, 64mb RAM, misconfigured CMOS setup that would not save correctly, and an operating system that was mucked up so badly that it was a surprise that it would even boot up. Oh, and the machine had the annoying habit of shutting itself down abruptly or rebooting without any warning after about half-hour of usage, loosing all work in progress.

We were tempted to just throw out the whole piece of crap and just order a new entry-level machine (cost: S$1400+) from Dell. I had purchased a system from Dell for the family machine slightly over a year back and it was a pleasant experience. The machine is still running fine but WinXP is getting gunked up with SP2 and all the junk my siblings are putting on it. Still a small price to pay for the luxury of having the old P2 to monopolise. As both D. and I are broke at the moment, I decided to give it a shot to see if I could get her machine in some semblance of working order and avoid the cost of a new machine.

Her box was originally assembled by a local SME integrator that has since gone defunct. Not surprisingly too since looking into the box details would raise questions about their technical competence. (Who puts a mere 64mb on a P3 to save cost?)

Defaulting the CMOS and a brand new S$3 CMOS battery quickly fixed the problem with the CMOS errors. However the problem with the machine cutting out and shutting down by itself was tricky.

Initially I thought it was the half-size 150w power supply. Juicing it from a 250w did not help matters any. I was thinking of replacing the mainboard and CPU (more costs!). Then when I pulled out the mainboard manual from the manufacturer website, I noticed that the clocking jumpers were all set to the maximum frequences for CPU external, PCI and well as the CPU internal multiple. I have no idea if the original intention was to overclock it by more than 15% in a compact tower form without additional cooling - but I seriously doubt it.

Evidently the CPU and RAM could handle it when new, but degradation over time probably caused failure. I dropped the clocks to match the physical markings (CPU - 500MHz, RAM - 133MHz) but the system still keep cutting out and shutting down after about a longer period of 30 minutes or so. Perhaps permanent damage to the components has already happened. Reducing the clocks to the bare minimum results in a stable system. 300MHz with the PCI bus at 66MHz is still plenty of juice if all you need it for is web-surfing.


Ripped out one of the secondary harddisks from my system and set it up on a separate IDE channel from the CDROM and original harddisk. Moved two pieces of SDRAM over as well. (Reducing from 400+mb RAM to 200+mb is still plenty, even on a P2 machine.)

Reinstalled the operating system on the fresh (now primary) harddisk, leaving the original data available on a secondary harddisk. Hooked the unit on the wireless adapter and pulled in the necesary system patches and updates. Installed the usual applications, put in the necessary updates. Put in antivirus and updated the latest virus definitions. Considered putting in a personal firewall as well but figured the user problems caused might not be worth the benefits.

Took most of the night, but saved a bunch of money by delaying the need to purchase a new system that would be overkill for her current needs.

The next step would be to migrate her setup from dialup narrowband to broadband. Not sure how much improvement it would be considering that Singnet is now throttling bandwidth and upload speeds are capped in any case. And I have never really bothered much with latency, jitter and packet loss issues through the IX since my primary usage is for packet data. But now it will matter.

< /geek >

After all that mucking around, we now have a stable system to work from.


***


So why the sudden desire to do a computer overhaul? My normal approach to technology being "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" apathy.

One word: Skype.
Translation: Free voice calls over the internet.

And maybe even video with cheap webcams, if we can get a big enough stable pipe. Australia's internet network infrastructure is pretty good and we hopefully should be able to get at least a half-decent connection.

At the very least we will be saving a huge pile of money that would otherwise be going to Singtel and Telstra. The last 10-day trip to Perth cost me almost S$200 in mobile phone bills. And I do not even want to think of the huge stack of used A$10 pre-paid calling cards when I was working out of Sydney away from D.

The time to maintain and update your tools is before you need them. Best to dig that well before you get too thirsty.


8 Comments:

Blogger C said...

I get $2.50 per hour calls from here to any major city in the world, courtesy my ISP. Am considering using them as a full telco since that means i get 8000kpbs internet if i do, but all in good time.

So when are you coming again? Plans sound like they're being made.

April 25, 2005 12:32 PM  
Blogger Agagooga said...

My desktop just crossed over from its erstwhile state of undeath to real death. *cries*

Rest in peace, dear desktop.

April 25, 2005 7:00 PM  
Blogger Agagooga said...

You've an unclosed italics tag somewhere btw

April 25, 2005 7:01 PM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

Thanks agagooga!

That will teach me not to check the rendering in multiple browsers but just relying on MSIE.

April 25, 2005 9:47 PM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

C:
No idea yet. I am still holding out hope to find work here that will allow me to remain by D.

April 25, 2005 9:50 PM  
Blogger chnrxn said...

Do install a personal firewall like Kerio, especially if the machine is directly connected to the Internet.

My cousin's laptop couldn't last more than 2 minutes even with dialup!

April 25, 2005 10:54 PM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

kokhong:

For a non-savvy user, a better way would be a hardware NAT solution that requires little (if any) user intervention.

Thank you for the concern. We will take our chances with the direct connection for now. Will definitely be getting in a router when the move is made to broadband.

April 25, 2005 11:37 PM  
Blogger jeffyen said...

I use oztell.com, costs 3.8cents per minute to SG from any public phone/home phone... the quality of these sort of 'cheap calling cards' has really improved over the past couple of years..

April 26, 2005 10:39 AM  

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