Captain Packrat (captpackrat) wrote,
Captain Packrat

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New computer

For a long time, my 2-1/2 year old Dell XPS 420 had been acting flaky.  The USB ports would spontaneously disappear, the RAID controller quit working, the TV tuner would stop recording and the video card would reset itself.  I should have gotten it fixed sooner, as I had the extended warranty, but I knew that the first thing tech support would do was have me reinstall Windows, even though it was obviously a hardware issue.  The problems occurred rarely enough (except the RAID controller issue, and that I got around by installing a controller card and disabling the onboard controller) that it wasn't worth the trouble of reinstalling Windows and all my software.

Then about two weeks ago, Windows just stopped booting.  I tried doing a repair, but I got an error about it being unable to find a system partition.  Great, the system is totally hosed.  The computer was nearly 3 years old and I really didn't want to go through the trouble of installing Windows and all my software on a machine that was already on its last legs.  I broke the RAID mirror and screwed around with one of the drives trying to get something to boot, but even after wiping the partitions, I still couldn't get Windows to do anything, not even a fresh install.  I could boot using a Puppy Linux CD and see that the data on the mirror drive was still intact.  Although I'd done a backup just the night before, I didn't want to lose the work I'd done that day so I left the drive alone.

So using my laptop (thank God for that!), I went to Amazon and started pricing out parts.  I was originally going to use some of my existing drives and video card, but I eventually decided if I was going to build a totally new machine, I should go all out and buy all new parts.

So my new computer is:
Asus P6X58D Premium motherboard (LGA 1366, USB 3.0, SATA III and RAID 0/1/5.)
Intel Core i7 950 (3.06MHz, 8MB L3 cache)
6GB Corsair Dominator PC3-12800 DDR3 memory (2GB x3)
Sapphire Radeon HD5770 (1GB DDR5)
Hauppauge WinTV 2250 dual TV tuner
Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB hard drives x2 (7200 RPM, SATA III, 64MB cache)
LG 10x Blu-ray writer
LG 24x DVD+/-RW
Antec Three Hundred Gaming Case (6 internal, 3 external bays)
Cooler Master Silent Pro M1000 power supply (1000W w/ modular cables)

I also ordered Office 2010, since I figured having some experience with the new version might help in landing a job (and besides, the only version of Office 2007 I had was OEM and tied to the Dell).  The full retail copy of Office allows you to install it on a desktop and a laptop, and since I didn't have Office on my laptop, I killed two birds with one CD.

After I'd already ordered the parts and it was too late to cancel the order (I'm an Amazon Prime member; I get stuff shipped 2nd day express for free but you only have 30 minutes to cancel an order), I discovered the cause of my inability to repair Windows: I had a USB flash drive plugged into my computer.  I was using it as a ReadyBoost drive and it was plugged into the back of my computer, so I never gave it a single thought.  It turns out that Windows cannot repair itself or do an install if there are any USB drives plugged in.  I probably could have repaired the system if I'd known to unplug that dongle.  But it was too late now, I couldn't cancel the order and I didn't want to return 7 huge boxes of stuff.

I was originally going to go with RAID 5, but Windows cannot install to a drive with more than 2 TB, so I just used RAID 1.  It will probably work out better anyway, since you can still read RAID 0 drives on another computer, while RAID 5 would require a computer with a similar controller.  Since the drives from the Dell were still good, I hooked them up as RAID 0, giving me 3 TB to use for recording TV.  The extra writing speed of RAID 1 will come in handy with a TV tuner that can record two channels simultaneously.  I also threw in another 2 TB drive to use for fast backups.

The computer is all up and running now, and I think I have 99% of my software installed and configured.

While out shopping for some minor parts at a local computer shop, I saw an LG N2R1D Network Attached Storage appliance.  My old ADS Tech NAS device dated from around 2004 and was equipped with a PATA controller; it was also highly unstable.  Since this LG model came without drives, I ordered a couple more Barracuda XTs and set them up as RAID 0; I figure anything I put on this device is mainly for backup or network sharing and the increased risk of using RAID 0 is partially offset by the higher reliability of this particular model drive.

Since I no longer had any reason not to, I called up Dell and after an agonizing 90 minutes managed to convince them to send someone out with a new motherboard.  They also wanted to replace the hard drives, which I didn't particularly care about since I'd replaced the original 500 GB drives when Windows 7 came out.  I could have done the replacement myself, but it was under warranty and Dell case designs can be particularly difficult, so I let the guy do his thing and now other than CPU, RAM and video card, I pretty much have a brand new system.  I'm going to give it to my SO, whose current computer (an AMD dual-core) is even older than the 420 (Core 2 quad).
Tags: computers

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