Wed. Apr 04, 2007
How Reid Buys a New PC
The title above was chosen carefully. This is not an attempt to tell you how or where you should buy your next PC. And to squelch the “Get a Mac” cliche before it happens, um, I already have (and a MacBook will be my next computer purchase). This is not an invitation to rekindle any hardware or software related Holy Wars. This is just to offer up where and how I configure and buy a PC, in hopes someone might find three or four words of it useful.
This will be the fifth PC I’ve bought. The first two were made by Micron, back when they made PC’s. The last two have been Dell’s, and so is this one.
Stop groaning. Do not point me to Jeff Jarvis’ infamous rant against them (look closely enough and you’ll see I’m in the comment thread). Let me tell you what I see as the trick buying a solid desktop PC from Dell, with next day repair on call.
Go to their home page. Do not click “Desktops.” Do not click “Home and Home Office.” Click “Small Business.” On that page, do not click “Desktops.” Click “Workstations.”
You’ve now entered an entirely different place. This is not Your Daddy’s Dell.
Now you may say, but Reid, I am not a “small business” like you are, so this is useless to me. What, do you think they card you or something? The only card they are interested in is your credit card. Do you hope to make some money with your new computer some day? Say yes. Then you’re a small business. Need a business name for their silly form? Your new last name is “Productions.”
What’s different about the workstation on the Small Business side of the site? Well, before I even get to my previous reasons for buying a workstation from the Small Business section, let’s look at the latest and greatest reason. It’s right there on the page I lead you to, in colored text…
“Available with Windows Vista or Windows XP“
Emphasis mine. Now, see if you can find that option anywhere else on the Dell site, particularly the Home and Home Office side. It’s all Vista, baby (Update: No longer true. “Dell is bringing XP back. Amid significant customer demand, the computer maker said on Thursday that it has returned to offering the older Windows version as an option on some of its consumer PCs.”). And Vista is a total deal breaker for me. But by ordering this workstation, I’ll get an XP Pro machine that will likely outlast Vista. Or my use of a PC of any type. Whichever comes first.
Beyond that, you’re getting an entirely different chipset than on the standard Dell, as well as much higher end configuration options and components. And, importantly, a different warranty as well. For an extra $109, I add “Gold Technical Support” to replace the standard phone support. And if there’s a problem within the first three years, they send a tech to my site the next day to fix it. Really, they do.
I know there are other decent PC manufacturers out there, but that’s why I chose a Dell workstation. They offer the options I need, and their PC’s have been solid in my experience, as has their tech support.
Most of my configuration selections were pretty straightforward. Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz, nVidia Quadro FX550 video card, DVD and DVD+/-RW, and … yum ... 24 inch widescreen LCD monitor. I’ve long been a dual monitor kind of guy, but now I’m going to try and live within those expansive confines.
I decided to order it with 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 RAM, 2 DIMMS, with two slots left open. I considered ordering 4GB, until I recently read about how a 32 bit operating system only has a 4GB address space for memory. And that allotment isn’t just for RAM, it includes video memory and other items. So if you’ve got a fancy 512MB video card, the OS can only use 3.5GB (or less) of your RAM. The fact is I’ve lived with 1GB of RAM for a long time, so I’ll go with 2 GB, and maybe add an additional GB or two on down the line, if I feel the need.
That leaves hard drives, which most might consider the most mundane aspect. But not me. I’ve long practiced and fully believe in the multi-drive philosophy. For a decade, I’ve kept my operating system and programs on Drive C, and then had a separate second drive for all files. In addition to the performance boost you can get in certain circumstances, if your operating system gets hosed, you can wipe it and never worry about your files (I’ll also note that through my first 4 PC’s, I’ve never had to re-install Windows once … perhaps because I’ve always been prepared for it). Backup is easy and uncomplicated … just back up the whole files drive.
This time, I’m taking that philosophy and kickin’ it up a notch. Or two. Drive C, 160 GB, is still operating system and programs, but drive C is now a 10,000 RPM drive, ~40% faster than the standard 7200 RPM drives. OS and application start and seek times should rock.
And instead of one drive for files, I’ve decided that my 1’s and 0’s multiply at such a ridiculously rapid rate, I’m going with two drives for files. Drive D is 320 GB, and will be “Files/Scans.” I think of these as the static source files. There’s umpteen GB of RAW files from my D60, scads of even larger RAW files from my full frame 5D, plus scans of film, install files, etc. Static source files.
Drive E, another 320GB, will be “Work.” Not just as defined by pay. If I process a RAW file (from drive D) into a new Photoshop file created to make a print, that’s a work file, and it goes on drive E. As does all of my web work, for myself and for my clients. And the web sites themselves. And all my text files, invoices, etc. Work, work, work.
That’s 800GB total between the three drives. Both of the internal 320GB files drives will be mated with a 320GB external USB drive for backup. Though much of it is redundant, at 1440GB we’re talking close to 1.5 terabytes of total storage.
I have to step back a second. My first hard drive was 850MB, or 0.85 GB. It was paired with 16MB of RAM (back then RAM was $40 per MB … 256MB was $10,000). The power supply was three hamsters. If your peripheral didn’t have a serial, parallel, or SCSI plug, it was a paperweight. All this digital wonderment appeared before my eyes on a 15” CRT monitor.
By comparison, this seems like a Cray supercomputer. And we’re talking about a time span of 11.3 years. Here’s the most amazing part. The price I paid for that first CPU with 15” inch monitor was about $50 less than I’m paying for this new CPU with a 24 inch monitor.
So that’s my story … for now. I ordered it online last Friday night about 8pm, with the standard (free) three to five day shipping. It’s now “in transit,” scheduled to be delivered this Friday, seven days after order. We’ll see if all arrives as advertised. But given my past experiences ordering in this manner, I expect it will.
Since I’ll then have to spend time loading it up with my favorite applications, I figured that would be a good time to update the old post, My Essential Software, and maybe Webbin’ Up as well. Because my application usage has changed quite a lot over the three years or so since then.
So I’ll be back with that sometime next week. In the meantime, I’ll clearing the decks of work, and preapring to spend a lot of time piling my electrons in the proper order in their new container.