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Yeah, that bent pin? Apparently, it’s been that way for eighteen months. Yes, it’s been taking a few tries to boot all the way, but once it got up and running it was perfectly stable. (When I unpacked my desktop machine after the big move, the CPU was just rattling around in the case, so I popped it into the socket. I must have bent the pin then).

Computers are more forgiving than we have any right to expect. I bought myself a new motherboard and CPU for Christmas one year — I believe the chip was a 486-SX and the motherboard would also take a full 486. At any rate, there were more holes in the m’board than pins on the chip and — but of course — I plugged the chip into the wrong holes.

Christmas morning, watched in horror as I flipped the switch and solder hissed and bubbled out of the smoking socket. But I killed it, let it cool and got it plugged in the right way around and it lived a long and happy life. For a 486SX.

This one is finally kaput, though. I got the pin straightened and re-reseated, but I broke the thingie that holds the heat sink in place, so it overheats before it even finishes booting.

Eh. Six years. Time it crossed the rainbow bridge to live with Grandma.

Now comes the tedious business of looking at barebones systems and Googling all the components to figure out what the hell I’m looking at.

Do all motherboards come with on-board graphics now? Is the AGP graphics card socket a dead standard? Are there wifi cards for desktops, or do they assume wired LAN? And this dual/quad core thing — does software need to be written specially to take advantage of that? I mean, is any of my funky old software (particularly Photoshop) going to benefit from it?

God, I hate learning new stuff.


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: August 18, 2010, 11:21 pm

‘k. I know NOTHING about the innards of computers–my firm has a company that can be relied on for IT advice, and the tech who does our stuff (and has been doing it now, regardless of who he worked for, for over a decade) does that stuff, and tells me what I need to know. What I will share (and then shut the heck up) is the motto that was posted over the workspace of my older sister at the Library of Congress when she died in 2000:

“Computers are like the Old Testament God: lots of rules, and no mercy.”

I’ll concede there have been times my sense has been that somehow mercy intruded. But I can’t imagine how that happens.

Comment from Pavel
Time: August 18, 2010, 11:44 pm

Meh. I stopped building my puters from scratch about five years ago. It just wasn’t economic anymore. Got a decent box from Dell a couple years ago, and have never looked back. I have popped the case exactly once in the time I have owned it.

Dual core vs quad core is a non-issue, I believe. iCore using the Nehalim architecture is where it’s at. It does a virtual bunch-o’-cores, like thirty or something.

Don’t know about the AGP video slots. Pure economics; what they had on board was fine for me.

For photoshopping: You definitely will want a 64 bit machine (I don’t know if anyone’s even making 32 bit any more), and you will want Photoshop CS5, which is completely rewritten for 64 bit and can access as many GB of ram as you throw at it. It is so fast and smooth you will go “Dude! Dude!” Promise.

I do a lot of video editing, and the CS5 version of Premiere is just incredible. I can scrub 5 gb of video with nary a stutter.

Comment from DJMoore
Time: August 18, 2010, 11:57 pm

For awhile, one of my job tasks was “burning eproms”, that is, writing the programs that control things like printers into the chip that stores them. There’s a little round glass window in the top that allows you to erase the program with UV light.

One day I loaded a blank chip into the socket and pushed “go”.

White light shone out of that window as the chip glowed like a light bulb because the idiot operator (me) had put the chip in upside down.

Out of curiosity, I turned it around, did a good burn this time, and it passed the verify test. No, it didn’t go in a customer unit, but still: rugged as hell.

Intel part, by the way.

Comment from JeffS
Time: August 19, 2010, 12:00 am

I built 3 of the 4 desktop computers that I recently owned, and modified the third extensively.

But when one of those 3 went started giving me issues, I muttered “F**k it!”, and ordered a newfangled “all-in-one” computer as a replacement from HP. Pretty cool, really.

As Pavel notes, building ’em from components is no longer cost effective. Fun, but I have other projects to spend time on.

Comment from Scott Jacobs
Time: August 19, 2010, 12:06 am

And most sites (HP, Dell, whatever) let you pick and choose upgrades (RAM, hard drive, Wireless card, etc), and frankly unless you really really like the assembly part, it just isn’t worth it. Just tell them what shiny bits you want, and let them build the fecking thing.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 19, 2010, 12:06 am

I’m in a tough spot with software, Pavel. When I left the company, they didn’t replace me (and several others). I had all stand-alone licenses. I’ve kept in touch and I know nobody else is using my stuff. So my software is all legal but it’s not mine.

If and when I go to buy my own licenses, it’s going to run into the thousands. Well, I just wouldn’t replace most of it, is all. But Photoshop alone is…ugh. Don’t want to think.

And I keep saying I’ll buy an off-the-shelf solution next time, but once I look into it, I find I want a certain this and a particular that. I mean, I got six years out of the last one, so cost effective is relative.

Comment from Pavel
Time: August 19, 2010, 12:45 am

What Scott says is true: all the big OEMs allow a great deal of customization. There are upgrades (to a better vid card, e.g.) and downgrades (don’t need that Blu-ray drive.) You simply can’t build a comparable unit for less than what these guys charge anymore.

Of course, you will miss the tactile experience of putting everything together, screwing in all those microscopic screws, ripping your knuckles open when you snake your hand down to the motherboard to plug in yet another cable or set another jumper; dropping the jumper and having to shake the entire unit upside down to get that little bastard to come out of the box, and when it does, it clatters into some dark corner of the room and you have to search for it for an hour; finally pushing the power button, and having the thrill of seeing it boot for the first time . . . or the agony of having it do nothing at all and you have no clue whatsofuckingever is wrong and you’re hungry and it’s 2 a.m. and you’re out of beer.

Never again. Especially the running out of beer part.

Comment from Clifford Skridlow
Time: August 19, 2010, 1:09 am

Gads. Running out of beer is one thing. Admitting to it in public is something else all together.

Comment from Mark
Time: August 19, 2010, 1:40 am

They’re generally a reliable source for what’s best value info, although they tend towards gaming. Your application is prone to using memory, so you may want to go 64-bit OS (Windows 7) in your build. Whilst the “buy it from XXX” guys are fine for grandma, you will probably want more disk space and memory than they are prone to offer. And you may want to add an additional hard drive later, but the power supply won’t be able to hack it.

Your app probably won’t use multi-core, but you might as well get one since they’re all that are reasonable performance these days and they’ll let you do e-mail and browse whilst you wait for PhotoShop to do its thing. Of course, you could always consider Corel and PaintShop”
for significantly less than what you expect. And the capability is there, although there is a learning curve. And there’s always GIMP:
which will ALSO do everything that PhotoShop does for free, although the learning curve is even steeper there.

I favor AMD, both for processor and for graphics, especially for photos, although the Intel and NVidia fanboies will tend to differ.

Comment from francis
Time: August 19, 2010, 2:16 am

My .05, from a professional geek (although I’m a few months out of date myself):

I always buy the best processor I can afford, then get a reasonable board to match. Everything else can be swapped out later; those two parts you’re pretty much stuck with. So even if a lot of stuff won’t be able to take advantage of it now, if you decide you want it later you’re hosed if you skimped there.

Other than that, yes, AGP is dying if not dead tech, PCI-E is currently where it’s at. Most mid-range boards will have onboard video, cheap boards don’t because they’re too cheap and very high end boards will assume you’re buying a vid card (or two) and may not bother. Onboard vid has come a long way and is probably decent enough for p-shop; for vid editing, graphics, dual-screen or high-end output you’ll still want a seperate card. Wifi is available as a PCI card, my Asus board came with wireless integrated.

Buy a cool new case while you’re at it 🙂

Comment from Frit
Time: August 19, 2010, 2:25 am

I must admit, putting a confuser together is not my thing. (Yes, I call them ‘confusers’. I’ve done 5 years worth of tech support for them, and I know them well enough that the name fits!) Also, I prefer laptops to desktops. I like lounging in a comfy chair while surfing the ‘net or dealing with e-mail, etc.

What I usually do is find who has the best customization available, and then tweak it til I am confident it will last for years, then get it. The last one I had was a Dell Inspiron, and it lasted 7 years. My new one is an AlienWare M17x fairly maxed out. It’s more of a mobile desktop than a true laptop, but I like it, and I expect it will last til 2017 – 2018 before I need to replace it. 🙂

Of course, going the AW route is not for those who need to count their pennies! (The price falls under the “EEEEK!” category.) But it’s a lovely toy, and I’m enjoying it!

Off topic; A friend of mine – who introduced me to your art – also showed me this article, and I thought Uncle Badger might find one of the poems at the bottom interesting.

Good luck with the new confuser!

Comment from Deborah
Time: August 19, 2010, 3:18 am

My granddaughter calls it the “computiker.” We’re mostly “Dell” people—we’ve bought seven Dells (not all of them were for us) since 1995 (plus two E-machines and one HP mini), and Husband’s work computer is a Dell, too. Husband generally orders custom configurations from Dell, but he also loves the refurbished sales site, and watches it like a hawk.

New graphics software though—ouch, that hurts.

Comment from scubafreak
Time: August 19, 2010, 6:03 am

Motherboards: Generally, expect basic graphic capability on any current motherboard, which automatically disables if you insert a higher end card into an expansion slot..

Dual/Quad core: Generally used by OS’s programmed for it to allow simultanious multi-threading of programs (ie. rather than alloting time to each program to use the sole processor, you now have mutliple processors available to run programs simultaniously.

Comment from Peter Risdon
Time: August 19, 2010, 7:50 am

I doubt you want to use the onboard graphics and the grindingly slow standard RAM it uses. Pop in a (dualhead?) card, which I think will be something PCI-like now (like you, I can’t be bothered really). I know AGP is of the past. If you’re using an old Photoshop you won’t be able to go 64 bit, which is a shame.

Personally, I just buy Intel from these people: http://www.woc.co.uk

Comment from vilmar
Time: August 19, 2010, 9:13 am

Unless you’re into gaming and Mac-type graphics/video editing, a plain, old, out-of-the-box computer should work. A few months ago I bought an HP 6331 with quad core, AMD chipset running about 2.6G, 8 Gig of DDR3 RAM, 6 USB ports, 7-in-1 card reader, 750G hard drive, etc. It is a SCREAMER! Blazingly fast. I’m on it hours every day. Never turn it off. Windows 7 is a real treat. Stable.

You should be able to find similar there.

Came with a 20″ flat screen. $650 out the door.

Comment from Bruce Campbell
Time: August 19, 2010, 9:44 am

When I owned a computer store in the wild west days of the 80s, yes I’m that old. People would ask me stupid question like how fast does a floppy drive spin. My reply would be what is the gear ratio of your car’s transmission. My point, other than the one on the top of my head, is just get in and drive. You could build a car from OTS parts but you don’t. I really don’t think you save that much if any coin building your own workstation. Especially if you factor in the aggravation coefficient.

Comment from Janna
Time: August 19, 2010, 11:00 am

My son has the administrative password on my computer.
I can’t install nuthin’
He got tired of repairing the damage when I f*cked it up.
He remotes in from another state and cleans up files’nsuch about every six months.
That’s my enlightening contribution to this thread.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: August 19, 2010, 12:22 pm

AGP is dead. Get a quad Core i7 for best bang/buck ratio. As much RAM as you can (at least 4 Gb, preferably 16). At least a TB of hard drive. You can get a mid-range NVIDIA 1 Gb PCI-E card for a hundred and fifty quid. Total system, with a reasonable monitor, should be less than £700.

Comment from David Bain
Time: August 19, 2010, 12:53 pm

Will you people stop it! Some woman asks about replacing her beige monster and you lot start leading me into temptation. I’ve just bought a camera I can’t afford; now you seem set on having me replace the geriatric couple who share my desk! Now, where’s that eBay shortcut . . .

Comment from Allen
Time: August 19, 2010, 3:56 pm

Hey, there’s an idea, let’s tell each other about the first computer you ever used so we can all point and laugh. I’ll go first.

When I put together my first lab I got hold of some older systems for automation and the like. They were a pair of PDP-8’s. 4K of memory IIRC. That went with the the DEC-20 we used for computational runs.

Comment from steve
Time: August 19, 2010, 5:14 pm

Apple IIC

I didn’t want to get suckered in to buying that new, and completely unproven “Macintosh” that came out at about the same time….Didn’t have any software available for it, or anthing….

Comment from surly ermine
Time: August 19, 2010, 5:40 pm

“But Photoshop alone is…ugh. Don’t want to think.”

I feel your pain Weas. All 700 bucks worth. My antique Photoshop 6 won’t work with my new Windows 64 bit system. Crap.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: August 19, 2010, 5:41 pm

First computer I ever used was a VAX mini-mainframe in 1978. Wrote my first code (in ALGOL 68) on it.

Comment from steve
Time: August 19, 2010, 6:23 pm


I am confident that there is an ALGORE joke to be had in and around that comment, somewhere

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: August 19, 2010, 7:27 pm

You could always try “ALGOLHOLIC”……

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 19, 2010, 7:58 pm

I remember reading about PDP-8’s and VAX. Also brontosauruses.

My first was a 286-12, but it had a whole passive backplane full of souped-up custom-soldered graphics boards. About a hundred thousand dollars worth.

I didn’t really understand that, though, and intended to buy a compatible PC as quickly as possible for my home use. I got a Phoenix-BIOS XT clone. It ran at a screaming fast 9.44 MHz (a genuine IBM was a mere 4.77). Cost more than my car.

God, I loved that thing.

Comment from Pavel
Time: August 19, 2010, 8:48 pm

XT Turbo with state-of-the-art CGA color. Dual 256 kb 5.25″ drives. $6000 and change, if memory serves.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 19, 2010, 9:32 pm

Probably a year after that. In addition to that list, mine had a 20 meg hard drive and an oddball proprietary high-density floppy drive. Put me back about $5K.

Comment from Sigivald
Time: August 19, 2010, 11:17 pm

In order:

No, just mostly. Hardcore graphics work and serious gaming all want a standalone card, but they’re pretty cheap.

Yes, completely and totally dead.

Yes, there are, and many MBs have one built in.

Yes, you need to write software to utilize multiple cores or hyperthreading… and both have been so common for so long that anything written vaguely recently is almost certain to support it if it’s useful to the software and the author isn’t a complete idiot.

Photoshop is more likely to take advantage of it where possible than other software of equal age, because Photoshop is aimed at a higher end market, who had multiple CPU systems before everyone else; Version 7 from 2003 boasted improved multi-CPU support, indicating that v6 had some.

And in any case a single core of a good new system will be much faster than your six year old beast.

Comment from jw
Time: August 19, 2010, 11:41 pm

*giggles*…for some reason I read alluv that with a cockney accent. I have no earthly idea why, but it was fun.

Comment from francis
Time: August 20, 2010, 12:56 am

Here, this should help: http://www.geekologie.com/2009/07/22/computer-hardware-2.jpg


Comment from n1bs
Time: August 20, 2010, 2:16 pm

If you end up having to replace Photoshop on your own dime, you might look at Photoshop Elements. It has most of the good stuff from the full version, but is under $100. Missing some of the “professional” features like CMYK output.

Comment from Hiyu
Time: August 20, 2010, 4:15 pm

http://www.novatech.co.uk is the best site I’ve found for barebones systems, give it a visit if you want! ^^

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 20, 2010, 7:51 pm

Bless you, Hiyu, Novatech is exactly where I’ve been looking. Okay, they popped up first in a Google search of “barebones systems” but chatter about them is positive and I like the look of their gear.

I’m still agonizing over this one, though.

Comment from AZRainman
Time: August 21, 2010, 4:30 am

Photoshop CS5 is said to make use of multicore systems and the benchmarks support this. My CS4 certainly maxes out my duo core. I hear it yelling, “Oh my aching gigahertz” every time I use the background eraser tool with a large brush.

CPU benchmarks using CS4:

Mobo benchmarks for CS5 towards the bottom here:
ASUS P6T Deluxe smokes them all (2x faster).

Lots of info here for builders:

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 21, 2010, 11:55 am

Whoa, look! It’s AZRainman — dude is the #1 ranked poster on Freaking News on account of he is some kindofa Photoshop god or something. Seriously — dude whips out huge high-resolution multi-layer Photoshop like other people eat cornflakes.

Thanks for stopping by, AZ. Sorry for the trip to the spam filter — it’s the links in your comment.

For the moment, I’m trying to swallow the bitter pill that the time may have come that I can’t cling to my old software and Operating System any longer.

Comment from Sockless Joe
Time: August 22, 2010, 9:59 pm

yes, there are internal wifi cards for desktops. Not common, but they exist. Or you could buy a USB wifi adapter, but then you’re down a USB port.

I don’t think anybody makes 32 bit procs anymore, but some OEMs and barebones bundlers sell 32 bit Windows on the lower end systems. Gotta watch for that.

I always sorta thought I’d build a system for myself some day, but as has been pointed out, it’s not particularly economical unless (1) you have a bunch of spare parts or (2) you weren’t planning on running Windows.

My current arcane tech issue is my monitor. I’m due for a new laptop, and my reasonably large secondary monitor accepts VGA and DVI, but not HDMI. Just about everything in the world is going HDMI now, so I might be stuck with a white elephant monitor.

Comment from Geriatric Geek
Time: August 23, 2010, 8:57 am

With regard to Novatech, I’ve done business with them, they are really good.
Give them a call and tell them what you want from your computer and they’ll help you design your own and then build it for you. They are MUCH cheaper than Dell etc.

Comment from Mark
Time: August 23, 2010, 7:46 pm

If you get a chance, you may want to ask AZ if Photoshop can take appropriate advantage of 6-core cpus, ie one of the AMD Phenom II X6 line:

And ask him about 32-bit vs. 64-bit OSs and how much memory to get.

Comment from Mark
Time: August 23, 2010, 7:53 pm

And I do realize that Intel has 6-core chips as well, but at ~900USD (or more) for Intel vs ~300USD for AMD, you can buy a LOT of other goodies if you go AMD.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 23, 2010, 9:27 pm

Oh, dear.

I used to be an AMD gal, but lately I’ve gone back to Intel. I didn’t realize the difference was three times, though. Plus, motherboards for the Intel are more expensive.

Agony, I tell you!

Comment from Mark
Time: August 24, 2010, 12:35 am

That’s why I suggested you ask those questions of AZ. Although his link to Anandtech did show the i7 doing well in comparison to the rest of the herd this past spring before the AMD chips came out. My bet, though, is that the AMD 6-core plus a 64-bit OS (Windows 7 Home Premium most likely if you wanna stay with Photoshop) and 4 GB or more of memory will do fine both now and for quite a while into the future. For a lot less moola than an equivalent Intel system. Unless, of course, y’all are rollin’ in the Pounds over there…

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 24, 2010, 12:41 am

Unemployed for almost two years now, Mark. Scraping by on a little t-shirt money, because I’ll chew off my wallet hand before I ask for pocket money.

But my main computer? That’s way, way up there on the “important things in life” scale.

Comment from Mark
Time: August 24, 2010, 12:57 am

Again, Anandtech can give you an idea of bang for the buck, or punch for the pound, as it were. And AZ should hopefully be able to help you understand how that value applies to your chosen software. My bet is that 4 to 8 gigabytes of memory, a 6-core AMD chip, and a 64-bit OS will give you by far the best value, and let you keep some pence for the chicklets. Or to put towards an upgraded system in a few years when all the existing processors are thoroughly outdated…

Comment from Mark
Time: August 24, 2010, 1:01 am

Your-side-of-the-pond links for Intel:
and AMD:
That’s a difference of quite a few quid for the quo…

Comment from Former Lurker
Time: August 24, 2010, 8:50 pm

Hi Weasel! I haven’t been on in a while, and you can take this advice with a grain of salt.

First – I don’t really do PC stuff any more. I support proprietary applications on about 800 Sun UNIX servers as a job, so don’t feel too inclined to get into the guts of PCs anymore when I get home from work. I used to, but not in a long while.

Anyway, for my Blues band, I had a shop design a new logo and when I tried to put the logo on stuff from Cafe Press, I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. Well, the shop created the logo in PhotoShop, which I know nothing about. But, I needed to make a few really minor changes and didn’t want to spend the money buying PhotoShop when I knew I’d never use it again. Anyway, to make a long story somewhat shorter, I found Gimp – an Open Source imaging tool that supposedly acts like PhotoShop. And it was free. I don’t know enough about either one to know if it will do what you need but you may want to check it out. Free is good.

Look at http://www.gimp.org/

Oh – I am running it (when I use it) on Windows Vista but it runs on just about anything – UNIX/LINUX (under X-Windows), Mac, etc. I think it has PhotoShop menus and stuff like that, from what I read. I’ve never used PhotoShop, so I don’t know how well the two compare. However, it did what I needed so I was happy.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 24, 2010, 9:08 pm

I’ve toyed with Gimp for years, Lurker. I’ve always heard good things about it.

Problem is, when you’ve used a certain piece of software X hours a day for twenty years, it’s the very devil trying to switch to something else.

Also, I’ve been reading what Photoshop CS5 will do and silently drooling.

Comment from SSD Bloke
Time: February 21, 2012, 4:39 pm

Photoshop opens in 2 seconds with a Solid State Disk – Amazing difference. Check out our Youtube video at http://youtu.be/l41Oxwnaa00

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