I’m a software nerd. Computer hardware never appealled to me as much, because you’re limited by the physical medium. Sometimes, you just have a bad part, and no matter how many times you clean it, check the connections, or (let’s face it) smack the hell out of it, it’s just not going to work. It’s too much like being a mechanic (not that I have anything against mechanics). Besides, with standards constantly changing, a cutting-edge system that worked beautifully last year is now old junk, and you’re left with a heap of parts that just don’t work anymore.
Software, on the other hand, is more elegant. It’s art. Plus, no matter how catastrophic the problem may be, you can just format and reinstall. It’s like wiping away the past.
My PC is something of a Frankenstein; I bought a Dell Dimension 2400 back in 2004, which I subsequently gutted later in the year to get it ready for Half-Life 2. I replaced the motherboard with a ecomony ASUS board (which required a new power supply), added a nVidia GeFore 5700 video card, dropped in a SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 sound card, and beefed up the memory to a tidy 1 GB of RAM. So, you see, the only original parts of the PC are the case and the power cord.
My wife and I both primarily use notebooks these days, so the Dimension has been relegated to a file/print server and Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE). I loathe paying for unnecessary subscriptions (I’m kind of a roll-your-own fella), so the TiVo-for-free concept of MCE appealled to me. I also like being able to organize DVDs and other videos, pictures, and my vast music collection in one place. I even went so far as to convert my nephew’s donated gen-1 XBox into an extender.
This past weekend, I ripped the guts out of the XP MCE and began the much-anticipated upgrade to Vista Ultimate. Now, I waited for over a year to migrate my home PC to Vista. Many users have complained about security and compatibility, but after my company upgraded my notebook to Vista Business, and I had a chance to play around with it, I’m reallly starting to like it. I had started thinking about upgrading late last year, but it’s no simple matter.
Before I was married, reformatting and installing the OS was a semi-annual event for me (what can I say, I had a lot of down-time). Over the past few years, however, it’s become less of a priority to have a lean, clean, updated system than to just keep those shared files accessible, so the XP MCE had been chugging along since December 2005. Don’t get me wrong, I keep my PC well-maintained (security patches, tune-ups, software upgrades), but let’s face it, once in a while you just have to rip out the guts and start over.
The real catalyst for my intrepid upgrade, however, was a sweet deal I got on a 400 GB hard disk from my buddy, Mike (update your space, dude). That’s where the story gets interesting. You see, Mike came by the hard drive as part of a 3-disk RAID array on eBay. He didn’t need 1200 GB of space, so (much to my wife’s chagrin) he offered me one of the disks for cheap. The only problem: my ASUS motherboard doesn’t have an SATA controller. So, I was off to CompUSA (before that ship sinks) to get an PCI SATA expansion card. Problem solved, right?
Wrong. The BIOS wouldn’t see the SATA disk connected to the without some reconfiguring (no sweat), but then Vista setup couldn’t detect it. I was able to load the driver from the CD included with the controller card and managed to successfully install Vista, but when the PC restarted, it couldn’t boot to the SATA disk. Because the SATA controller wasn’t integrated, the board didn’t see it as a boot option. Rather than upgrading the motherboard (again), I just decided to install Vista on my old IDE disk, and set up the new SATA disk for storing all my data.
After several hours of downloading security patches and updates, I was finally ready to go. Connecting the PC to my TV is another story. You see, my upstairs TV is a 25" Magnavox I bought back in 1994; it’s built like a brick shithouse, and despite my best efforts, I don’t think it’s ever going to die. Needless to say, it’s a bit lacking in the digital connections department. Streaming video to the TV is accomplished by a rat’s nest of cables and video converter switches that would give MacGyver a chubby.
I finally got to kick back and watch some recorded shows I ported over from the old MCE. My first impressions are very positive; the new Vista MCE interface is schweeeet. Ginny was less impressed (her leading question is always "ok, so what does it do now that it couldn’t do before?"), but she’ll come around. I just appreciate the fact that she tolerates my geeky crap at all.
As I get older, there’s a little guy inside my head that says, "you know, maybe buying a Mac wouldn’t be such a bad idea. They sure are shiny and sexy." I need weekends like this one to beat the hell out of that guy. PCs rock.