So I bought a new computer

I bought a new computer. That could suffice for a posting. But you know me. Never shy of things to tell. For the archives.

When we moved here in spring 2003 I decided to do justice to the new shack with a new PC. I left the old vintage 1998 Win98 machine at my parent’s place. It was a Big Tower case and I wanted something compact to put on the operating table. On top of the table you say? Yes but it soon took a plunge below the desk. It’s a long time ago so I don’t really remember the details but I did a performance comparison between the then current Intel and AMD CPUs. For equal specs the AMD was way cheaper. We just bought a house and I needed to build a station so I bought the cheap AMD. The vendor said the AMD CPU was just fine. I used Win XP for the first time too. My employer at that time still had NT Workstations. Soon I had problems with the PC freezing. The vendor said AMD was notorious for heat problems so he advised me to buy a supplemental fan and put it in the case. That indeed solved the problem. Why did he tell me the thing would run fine when he comes up with the heat issue and the fan solution right away? It made my PC noisier than a vacuum cleaner. Hence I put it below the desk. And lost faith in the vendor.

A few years later the computer started freezing again. Not really the problem you want to run into during a contest. Google told me that many main boards made in a specific era developed bad electrolytic capacitors over time. Poor quality components, Made in YouKnowWhere. Sure enough the caps on my PCB suffered the symptoms described. The top looked like a dull cracked dome in stead of a flat shiny surface. I bought a set of replacement caps. These did not come cheap I remember. I replaced the bad caps. Soldering a complex PCB like a PC main board didn’t quite appeal to me. But I had accumulated a lot of soldering experience in my previous life as an electronics service techie. Even on multilayer boards from fancy RF T&M equipment I could settle the loan for the house with. Or  at least half of it. So I reckoned there was nothing lost except the caps if the experiment didn’t succeed. The soldering job was only partially a success. The PC still worked but it also froze sometimes so I ended up doing an upgrade: new MB, CPU and RAM and put that in the same case. And moved from XP Home to Pro.

But even this one grew old and slow. XP SP3 and new software became more demanding. By then the XYL had retired her old PC and settled for a laptop. It was a low end AMD. I must say that the heat problem got solved for the AMD products. It was a relatively beefy system for its price. I ran a piece of diagnostics software on both my Intel Dual Core and the AMD and it turned out the AMD system had a better chance of running Win7. Or at least all drivers were available for this system to run the old hardware with the new software. If I combined the RAM of both machines to 6MB it was even worth to migrate to 64 bit. And so I did. I put in a DVD writer/reader since most install disks are DVD nowadays and not the old CD-ROM. I also mounted a solid state HDD in it to see what the buzz was all about. I think the MB was too old to really make the most of the new fast SATA interface. Later on I bought a dedicated graphics adapter so I could hook up two screens. This system has worked fine in my shack for almost three years. But this system is vintage 2007 so in some cases it had a rough time and I don’t want to run out of resources in a contest.

This old system had also developed a nasty problem. The CMOS battery needed a replacement. At first I didn’t notice but the computer started acting strange. Like Chrome reporting invalid certificates for sites I visited the day before. Google revealed that it could be caused by invalid dates. Sure enough, my clock showed the wrong date and time. Luckily I wasn’t doing a contest. Since the clock didn’t synch right away on booting, I absolutely had to do that before logging real contacts. On a few occasions when testing some things, I realized I kept forgetting to synch the clock. It would synch itself over NTP when the PC was running but that took a while. So I put an ASCII file on the desktop “don’t forget to adjust clock” and put a shortcut to that in the Startup folder. That way I would see my note to self each time the PC booted up. Soon after it got worse. The computer wouldn’t boot anymore because the date was invalid. Each time I had to dig into the BIOS and adjust the date and time. Cumbersome.

So I bought a new computer. My first plan was to do an upgrade again. Motherboard, CPU and RAM. But as the PC really does a nice job for simple light work, I wanted to give it a second life somewhere. The MB/CPU/RAM combo alone would just be accumulating dust for a few years to end up in the recycle bin. So I bought everything but hard disk and graphics card. These two parts I would move from the old PC. That one would return to on board VGA and some old SATA HDD I have here. I was looking for an i5 CPU but settled on an AMD 8 core CPU and 8 MB of fast RAM. Since I only run N1MMLogger and peripheral stuff plus a browser in the shack, I figured this would be enough for a while. One reviewer who bought the processor mentioned it comes with a noisy CPU cooler. For a moment I was browsing the online seller’s CPU cooler section looking for the quietest model available. But then it hit me: two amps and two switched mode power supplies have forced me to buy the most isolated and sealed headphones on the market. What harm can a little noisy CPU cooler do?

When the box got here I was in for a surprise: new cases have the power supply placed at the bottom. I had never seen this. Won’t this suck all particles and dust from the floor straight into the PSU? Also the new modern power supplies look a lot different than the ones I remember from twenty (twenty five?) years ago. On the other hand documentation both in print supplied with the parts and online is so much better nowadays. I started putting the components together and soon I concluded that I had bought a cheap low budget case. Actually that was not the conclusion, that was a fact right from the start. The real conclusion was that once again you get what you pay for. Soon the system was ready but since there was no on board VGA, I could not test it. I needed to remove the graphics card from the shack PC that was about to be retired.

That was a bit of a problem. Recuperating parts and especially formatting the SSD would mean there is no way back. What if it didn’t work? That was the week leading up to the EUHFC contest. Can’t risk ending up without a PC the day before a nice contest. So I decided to wait till after the WAECW contest ten days later. But as summer 2014 has offered us a lot of rainy days, I made the best of such a drowned day and went for it. The PC was now ready. I hooked it up to the two screens and hit the start button. Nothing happened. Really nothing. Not a LED blinking, not a fan moving. Even no sparks nor smoke.

Since absolutely nothing happened and you have to start troubleshooting somewhere, I took a look at the header on the main board where the power and reset buttons from the front panel connect to. I couldn’t see those anymore because they’re clogged by the graphics card. That’s what you get with a cheap case. Everything crammed together in a tight space. So out with the video adapter. I took my magnetic LED torch for some ‘enlightenment’ and found at least some metal in the case. I removed all wires and reconnected them. It’s not easy, these little things that should slide over a small pin, in the dark. My big hands blocked the light and my fat fingers had troubles connecting things in the right place. When I thought I was good, I plugged the video card back in and hooked it all up for another test.

This time the fan started buzzing right away. So I might have pulled a wire loose when installing the graphics adapter. When I crawled from underneath the desk I already saw things appear on the screen. Everything from there went as planned. Downloading all drivers, updates, patches and necessary software was good for 2.8 GB that day alone. My daily average is 500MB.

So I bought a new computer. Its maiden trip was my brief excursion in WAECW last weekend. That worked. CW always works. Strangely enough SSB voice keying seems to work too right away. I disabled all on board sound devices. I never listen to music or watch movies in the shack. I exclusively use the MK2R+ USB sound devices for SSB and digital modes. Now I still need to spend countless frustrating hours to get RTTY to work. Some people refer to that as RTTY Stress.

One reply on “So I bought a new computer”

I took a “long QRX” from ham radio from 1999 to 2009 as work and kids consumed my time. In 2009 I realized I was spending way too much time sitting in front of a computer, essentially just typing, at both work and at play. So I had a great time putting up antennas, buying a K3 and my first amplifier, building a K1EL keyer, getting back to contesting, etc.

A few weeks ago there was a rainy weekend and actually no contests on, so I figured I would do some shack maintenance, which involved updating the firmware on the K3, KPA500, P3, KAT500, MK2R+ and updating N1MM to the latest version and .cty, etc files. And getting a refurbished laptop configured to run N1MM and work with RemoteRig to remotely operated K4VV and other stations.

I pretty much spent the entire time essentially typing…

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