atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#4255: New computer, two weeks in

The most impressive thing about it is how quiet it is. Most of the time it's dead silent, making no sound whatsoever.

When I put the thing in sleep mode, sometimes it wakes back up immediately. This may be due to the mouse moving; I've noticed that every so often there's some tension on the mouse cable, which probably means I have to re-route it because some other cable is laying on it. If I shut the computer down completely, it powers on when I hit a key on the keyboard. (That'll be a BIOS/UEFI setting, most likely, but I haven't decided whether I want to change it or not.)

When I have leisure to, I'm going to do a factory restore on the system and repartition the hard drive so it's all one drive. There's no point to having it partitioned like this.

WoW loads a hell of a lot faster. I expected that, considering it's got 8 GB of RAM and a 64-bit OS.

Annoyances are few, so far, unlike this point in the upgrade to Cephiro in 2007. The "spell check" turning itself on for every text-entry box in the browser is one of them. I'm hoping the OS restore will fix that. There hasn't been any software which refused to work, though WinAmp doesn't install for all users for some dumb reason. That might be due to the fact that I used an older build, because their site is down--something about being acquired by someone else and the software being "reenergized"--so it might not install correctly on Win 8.

I can't change the login screen image, but that should be fixed by the restore.

Win 8 isn't nearly as intrusive as I'd feared it would be, but I was beginning to suspect that after having to learn the interface for work. Mostly it stays out of my way and lets me run my programs, which is all I want from an OS.

I didn't even take the included keyboard out of the box. It just looked inferior to the old Gateway keyboard that came with Cephiro; further I'm used to the layout and feel of this one and have "customized" it so that it doesn't do anything annoying. ("Customized": I removed the CAPS LOCK key and the right Windows key, so I no longer accidentally hit them and screw up whatever I'm doing.) The mouse is a harmlessly generic optical mouse and it will get swapped into place when I need a new mouse. I may (or may not) give the Steelseries Apex another try; this computer has USB 3.0 and ought to support it handily.

It's still so fast it makes you want to punch yourself in the face. I don't expect that to change any time soon. The law of diminishing returns is having its way with Moore's Law so it's becoming incrementally harder, as each Moore generation passes, to get that doubling, which is why I was able to use an entry-level machine made in 2007 for so long: the processor wasn't being completely outstripped by new technology, not the way things went in the early 1990s. Cephiro has a Core 2 Duo chip that runs acceptably fast even by today's standards; the Core iX line just has better technology and more computing cores. Nearly all the difference in speed comes from those improvements rather than clock speed or an increase in the number of transistors. (This is why the bargain basement computers can have "Pentium" processors in them--they're Pentium D or some other variant, extra-cheap, but they work.)

I could not have used a brand-new budget computer made in 1990 until 1997, not if I wanted to run 1997 software on the thing. A budget machine in 1990 had an 80286 processor, maybe running at 12 MHz; in 1997 an entry level machine had a Celeron running around 300 MHz or so. The Landmark Speed Test (remember that?) used the 80286 as a benchmark, and my Celeron 333 had a Landmark score of something like 1,000, and the score meant an Intel 80286 would have to run at 1 GHz to perform as well. (Which is, of course, effectively impossible, if not impossible in fact. You can run a processor far beyond its design speed by cooling it with liquid nitrogen, but you need to have a lab full of equipment to do that, and what's the point?) But during the same time feature size shrank precipitously.

I still remember all the kvetching in the semiconductor industry about how 0.7 microns was going to break Moore's Law, because OMG there are so many problems with such a small feature size--and now we're making industrial quantities of chips with a 22 nm process, which is some 32 times smaller, or 1/1024 the area on the die. (Small enough to engrave an entire original Pentium processor on a grain of salt! And have room on the other five faces for memory and interface chips--an entire DOS computer! WTF.) (Powering said computer, and the problem of I/O, are left as exercises for the student.)

So according to the "Windows Experience Index", Floristica is turning in a solid 7.3-7.9 (out of 9.9) and the only thing limiting its speed is...the hard drive, which comes in at 5.9, the maximum for spinning disks interfaced with SATA 3.0. Cephiro also got 5.9 for its hard drive subsystem, and just about everything else was around there, but the processor itself was the limiting factor. Its memory could have been faster, which is why I wanted to upgrade to PC-6400 RAM. We saw how that turned out. The only way to fix that disk score is to put in an SSD; one big enough for the task would run around $200 right now. I should not need to deal with that particular bottleneck for quite a while, absent some kind of miracle in the software world that changes everything, and in the meantime prices for SSDs should come down to approach that of spinning metal disks. (1 TB for about $80 as of this writing, compared to $500 for an SSD of the same size.)

The only reason SSDs cost a premium? Speed costs money. They're easier to build than conventional hard drives, and once you have the ICs there isn't even a requirement for a high-zoot clean room--a conventional board fab with the capacity for handling surface-mount devices is all you need. There are factories all over the world turning out FLASH chips in container volumes and it takes perhaps 16 or 32 of the big chips to make a decent SDD. Once you have the manufacturing process set up it can run automatically, with very little human input, and there are no moving parts in an SSD; there's no adjustment possible and they either work or they do not. You're paying a premium for the desirability of the high performance; these things should be--are--cheaper to manufacture than conventional drives.

Anyway, so the computer is very fast, and it's not likely to get a great deal faster without an enormous input of money. Memory is keeping up with the processor (7.9 of 9.9) so installing another stick of RAM--to get away from the speed penalty of using one stick in a dual-channel system--is probably not necessary. Eventually I'll bump it to 16 GB at least, but I won't need to do that for a while, either. That makes this the first new computer I've bought since 1998 that didn't need an upgrade from its stock configuration. Cephiro came with 500 MB from the factory (for Vista! *shudder*) and Jurai--vintage 2001--came with 64 MB if I am recalling correctly. (I soon upgraded it to its maximum, 1 GB.) The old Compaq one-lung laptop (1998) came with something like 32 MB, and was upgraded to its maximum of 96 MB within a year of purchase.

In fact, I can remember all my computer purchases. Floristica, two weeks ago. Cephiro, March of 2007. Jurai, May of 2001. I got my Compaq laptop in October or November of 1998. I got my Celeron system put together sometime in June or July of that year. That replaced the Pentium system I put together in 1996, which itself replaced the machine I'd assembled in 1993 that used an 80386 system board and a Cyrix processor that acted like a 486. Before that, I had an 80386-25 system with 2 MB of RAM that I assembled in summer of 1992, perhaps six months after I'd put together an 80286 system using an IBM PC-AT motherboard and other scrounged parts. Before that, I used an NEC MultiSpeed laptop with a CGA monitor, all of which I'd bought from my employer (Sears Business Centers) as old display merchandise, and for a pittance at that. (The computer was $5.33 with tax. The laptop had an external parallel port hard drive--20 MB--I got from a discount catalog, and at $150 was the most expensive part of that system.) I got my Atari 520 ST in early 1988, and my Commodore 64 in the summer of 1983.

(This is why I get frustrated with people when I ask them how long they've had their computer and the answer is, "I don't know." No idea? Not even the year?)

Then again, I was a computer hobbyist long before I was a technician, and in fact I did those jobs because I like working with the machinery. I suppose that goes to show something, but I have no idea what it is.

Anyway, I'm spending too much time writing about a tale plainly told on a precious day off. So what am I doing here?

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