the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: PC

byopc 2016, windows edition

I have an upcoming project, formatting the next edition of my progressive rock guide, that requires the use of InDesign. My old Dell PC died earlier this year, and as a stop gap I took the guts of this computer and put it in a new box. I got a copy of Windows 10 Education from the day job, and while it was perfectly fine for doing what I normally do on Windows (finances, work email) at home, it was – no surprise – very sluggish with the Adobe Creative Cloud products. And since this job is a big deal, I didn’t want to be frustrated while working on it.

I looked into buying a Windows computer. The local Microcenter had a few decent Intel Core i5 models for under $500, but to be honest they all were cheap builds and according to reviews loaded with crapware. So I decided to look at parts to byopc. Starting with a 6th generation Skylake Intel Core i5 processor for $180, I started to work backward because although the book job will pay off, I’m cheap! The i3-6100 was less expensive at $109. The major difference between the i5 and the i3 is that the latter only has two actual cores; but for my needs, that’s acceptable, especially considering the savings. I picked up a Gigabyte GA-H110M-S2H motherboard for $29.99, which includes a $30 discount for the processor combo, and 8GB of DDR4 memory to match the board. I also decided to get a SSD drive, the Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 Series for $40, figuring that that SSD would more than make up in performance for the step down in processor.

The total cost for the parts was under $250, and it took about two hours to put the computer together, install Windows and download my applications again. I needed to update the Intel 530 display driver right away because the computer had some trouble coming out of sleep mode. But otherwise the computer is fast, has a fresh install of Windows 10 (Anniversary Edition is now updating), and the old hard drive is still there with all my old files. If I haven’t said this before, Windows 10 is one of Microsoft’s best versions yet. I thoroughly enjoy using it, especially on a quick, modern machine.

Now to get working on that book!

lenovo thinkpad edge e430

I ordered a new notebook computer for my wife, a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430. Very nice machine, with a 14" non-glare screen at 1366×768, Intel Core i3 processor, the usually bells, and weighs in at just under 5lbs. What I really liked about it was that all the ports are on the sides and front (SD card) of the computer (including a HDMI port) – nothing connects in the back. That's really handy for tight spaces. Another selling point was the "new" keyboard layout, a substantial if different "upgrade" from the ThinkPads of old. The keys have a really nice touch and spacing and layout is great. The computer also has a very nice form factor, light, easy to open up, and pleasant on the hands, though a few more pixels in the screen (size, not density) would have been nice. I choose to upgrade the RAM by running down to my local Microcenter and purchasing a 4GB SO-DIMM (PC3-12800 1600MHz DDR3) for $30; not only was it a lot less than what Lenovo wanted to charge, but it was the SAME Samsung chip that was already installed. How freaky is that?! All-in-all, the laptop cost around $525 with tax and discount, not bad by any means.

I did have an issue when I first tried to update Windows 7 (Home Premium 64 bit). The updates would install, but when I went to reboot to finish, they would revert after getting about 15% done. No worries, a bit of googling found the solution. I first ran a chkdsk /f/r and then rebooted. Then, I ran the updates in order, with a reboot in between each set:

1) Critical updates (about 10 updates)
2) .Net and IE (3 updates)
3) first half the Windows Updates (7 updates)
4) second half of the Windows Updates (6 updates)
5) last Windows update (it was about 1.2 mb in size)

Viola! Only someone in Redmond would know why a perfectly new installation would experience this, or why Windows Update couldn't have figured this out itself, but there you are; it worked, and my wife is now enjoying her new computer, in all its understated glory!

On the web:
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430

windows update

Did a couple of "clean" installs this week on a few laptops. The XP machine was fortunately imaged at SP2. So that one required SP3 and then an additional 108 high priority updates from Microsoft. The Vista machine required two (2) service packs, and then 99 additional updates from Microsoft. None of this included .Net, Software Optional, Hardware, or Microsoft Office updates, btw…

windows 7

I picked up a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium edition from DigitalRiver. The education special was indeed quite special: $29 for an upgrade edition, with the media costing an extra $13. So, I shrank my hard drive, made a new partition and popped in the Win7 disc. An hour later, I was in business.

The good news? All the hype about Windows 7 seems to be true. It is easier to navigate, it performs flawlessly, and even offered to download new drivers for my Samsung ML-1710 laser printer. I had IIS up and running my ASP/Access site in no time at all, and it runs perfectly fine on my old Dell C521, which is powered by an Athlon X2 4000 and 3GB of RAM. Still can't print from Linux however.

Oh yeah, and don't forget about "God Mode". Just create a folder with the text below and you'll be able to access hundreds of settings!

God Mode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

dell such a deal! (two and one-half years later)


Not that I need it, but I can't stop thinking about getting a new computer ever since Windows 7 was released. The Dell Inspiron 537s Slim Desktop is a budget computer, but with an Intel E5300 Core 2 Duo processor (2MB L2, 2.6GHz, 800FSB) and a base price of $289, isn't it just too cheap to pass up?

As with any purchase, the key is not to turn a good deal into something more expensive. I could choose a faster processor: Dell offers the E7500 for $70 more. Would I really notice the faster CPU? I open web browsers, balance my checkbook, fiddle with some web stuff, and… that's about it. Home users generally have only two CPU-demanding needs: gaming and video. Since I neither game nor do any serious video/dvd authoring, why would I need to spend more money on a faster CPU? To future proof and that's about it. At any rate, a system will only run as fast as the slowest part: in this case, it's the 800MHz RAM that Dell puts in the computer. As for memory, if you have a 32bit operating system, get 4GB and no more – that's all it can physically address. But now that 64bit is standard, there's more temptation to buy more memory. By all means, buy the most computer for your money, but think before spending unnecessarily.

I found two deals for the Inspiron 537s, the first from Techbargains.com. It proposes a quad-core upgrade, but again, let's be reasonable: you must have software written specifically for a quad-core processor in order to gain any benefit from it. Sure, the OS may be multithreaded, but it's the apps that matter. Buy only if you have an application that can use those extra cores.

The other deal was from a Dell catalog I got in the mail (see the E-value Code below). It starts with the E5300 processor and adds Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit, a two year warranty and 3GB of RAM, all for $349. Pretty sweet deal, Dell. Now as I configure it, I don't want to go crazy and spend spend spend: I'll only add $19 for a media reader, as the $60 ATI 4350 video card can be bought for less elsewhere (I always recommend off-board graphics and will use the card in my current machine). Upgrading RAM to 4GB is fortunately just as cheap as buying the same dual channel kit elsewhere, so good on Dell for not ripping us off; it's $80 from 2GB and $35 from 3GB.

Two and one-half years later, do I really need a new PC? Well, this Inspiron 537s is just $404$394, has Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit, 4GB RAM, and a two year warranty. Maybe you'll see that old C521 up on eBay early next year…

On the web:
Techbargains.com
Dell.com/deals Enter E-value Code: 6F990-DDPCRN1

iogear 2-port usb kvm switch


*Although I didn't buy a video card for the new box, I did spring for a new KVM switch, the IOGear 2-Port USB GCS42UW6, for $19.95 (again Microcenter price-matched NewEgg). What an excellent upgrade. The display from the Ubuntu box looks markedly improved over the old Trendnet TK-207 KVM. No flicker or noise, and no more continual need to auto adjust on my analog monitor. (Yeah, those DVI KVMs are quite pricey). And incidentally, I also noticed that the IOGear installed itself as a USB hub on the Vista machine, something the old one never did.

I'm so happy with this I'm going to give it it's own post. Hey, it's the little things in life…

dell mini, redux

Even in these economic times, it's hard to pass up a good deal when you see one: yesterday Dell had a one day sale on their Mini 9 netbook, offering $50 off the "n" model. Sure, the Mini 10 is on the horizon, but at $199 I just couldn't pass. (Thanks to Engadget and Slickdeals for the tip-offs.)

With an extra educational discount of 7% (and free shipping), and a further 4% using a Dell credit card, I landed the computer for an all time low price of $204.91. While I couldn't see spending $30 to change the color from black (what's up with that Dell?), I did add the Integrated 0.3M Pixel Webcam for kicks. I'll update the RAM to 2GB elsewhere. Here's the specs:

  • Intel Atom N270 (1.6/533/512)
  • Ubuntu Linux 8.04.1
  • 512MB DDR2 (533)
  • 8.9" LED (1024×600)
  • 4GB SSD
  • Wireless 802.11g Mini Card
  • 1 year warranty

On the web:
Dell Mini 9 netbook

dell such a deal!

I've been toying with the idea of replacing my desktop computer; the old machine is about four years old, and while the performance is still superb, the whole XP look is really dated once you spend some time with Windows Vista. The Dell E520 (below) had impressed me enough: Dell's come a long way since the clamshell design of a few years back. However, techbargains.com revealed a deal I couldn't pass up: C521, Athlon X2 4000+, 2GB RAM, 320GB HD, DVD+-RW, Media Reader, blah, blah and Windows Home Premium all for $425.00. That's not only inexpensive, it downright cheap!

The wife gave the green light, so I ordered it on 7/24/07, and had it on 07/28/07. That's fast.

I configured it to dual-boot, with Vista and Ubuntu. Was this easy or what? I just did a "shrink" to the massive C: in Vista, then booted off of Ubuntu CD and started the install, selecting "guided using freespace" when partitioning. After a reboot, grub had automatically configured Vista into the bootloader. I thenb edited /boot/grub/menu.lst to set it as the default.

Now to clean up my old Thinkcentre A51 for eBay!

Techbargains.com:
http://www.techbargains.com/news_displayItem.cfm/96815

dell preloaded with ubuntu

No doubt you've heard about Dell preloading Ubuntu onto a few of their models, as a result of their customer's desire (voiced on Dell's Idea Storm) for a non-Microsoft option.

At any rate, I had a license for Vista I purchased that I was using on an old pentium 4. What a beast; even with a 1GB of Ram, it ran like a turtle. So it made a lot of sense to purchase the Dell with Ubuntu – no extra license of Windows to pay for, and I get to support the cause – I wonder how many people that voiced their opinion will actually come through with a purchase? I chose the Dimension E520n; mainly because it was inexpensive, but also because it's plenty good enough for most anyone's desktop requirements (Intel C2D1.8Ghz,1GB,250GB,DVD+-R,Geforce7300LE). Total cost: $465.

In order to dual-boot to both Ubuntu and Vista, I had to first resize the 250GB hard drive in order to create an empty partition to load Vista onto. This was accomplished easily enough in a few steps:
1) Download Gparted live disk, boot off of it, and resize the largest partition in half, creating 100GB unallocated space.
2) Turn off the boot flag on the partition that had it active; Vista won't install if it exists. Be sure to click apply, and wait for Gparted to resize the drive.
3) Boot off the Vista DVD to install it. It's straight-forward, be sure to format the unallocated space before you install to it. When complete, you'll have a computer that will only boot into Vista.
4) Reinstall grub in order to boot back into Linux. I booted off my Ubuntu live CD, ran terminal, and issued the following commands:

$ sudo grub
# find /grub/stage1
this returned the drive (hd0,2) which is used below:
# root (hd0,2)
# setup (hd0)

5) Now the computer only boots into Linux, but by adding the following (as root) to /boot/grub/menu.lst, dual-booting is now possible: Be sure to add this to the VERY BOTTOM of the file!

title		Windows Vista
root (hd0,0)
makeactive
chainloader +1

You may have to experiment with the drive numbering, but this can be done by editing grub when you reboot.

There you have it, an extremely easy way to dual-boot Ubuntu and Vista, without reinstalling anything!

Dell's Open Source page:
http://www.dell.com/open
Gnome Parted LivCD:
http://gparted.sourceforge.net/livecd.php
Ubuntu:
http://www.ubuntu.com/