core 2 duo Woodchuck
Monday, May 4 2009
setting: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
I spent most of the day putting together a new "Woodchuck" (my main computer) to replace the Woodchuck I'd been using for a little over four years. The old Woodchuck was based on an Athlon 64 and had two gigabytes of RAM. It was the culmination of seven years of loyalty to the AMD processor line. Indeed, I'd never used an Intel processor on any of my main computers stretching all the way back to 1983; my first main computer running Windows had been based on a PR200 MII chip. All that changed today with the new Woodchuck, which would feature a 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, which (according to my research) was a better value than a similarly-priced AMD chip.
For logistical reasons, I build the new Woodchuck in a different case than the old Woodchuck. The case I used had belonged to an old Gateway machine that had shipped with a 666 MHz Pentium III motherboard in the year 2000. Modifying this case to accept a modern motherboard was not trivial. I had to use a reciprocating saw to cut out all the metal around the built-in motherboard ports (keyboard, serial, parallel, etc), as that area of ATX motherboards has changed substantially in the last several years. The standard parallel and serial ports have been abandoned, replaced with a large number of USB ports. About six or seven years ago case makers started shipping cases with a big rectangular knock-out to be filled by the motherboard manufacturer with a custom plate with holes for whatever ports happened to be on that particular motherboard, but the old Gateway case predated this custom and thus I had to reach for the reciprocating saw. I had to also use the saw to modify the case to accept a modern ATX power supply, which had a slightly-wider arrangement of switch, AC cord attachment, and voltage setting. Modern ATX power supplies have 24 pin main connectors to fit modern motherboards (the old standard was 20 pin connectors) and they also feature new connectors designed for SATA hard drives, which seem to have far more pins than are necessary for a single device's power needs.
The new Woodchuck's hard drive would be the same one terabyte hard drive as had been in the old Woodchuck. I plugged it in to the motherboard and the computer booted up Windows XP Professional without complaint, though at the end of the process it whined and complained about needing several dozen drivers, including one for the new video card, a dual-head PCI Express unit manufactured by ATI. That's another thing that has changed since my last Woodchuck; nobody is using AGP video cards these days.
Aside from the workshop annoyance of having to modify the case, today's upgrade was unexpectedly painless until I tried attaching the new Woodchuck to my array of monitors. I use four; they are my single greatest luxury in life. I ended up spending the rest of the day in a fruitless attempt to get all four monitors working. It turns out that ATI and Nvidia video cards sabotage each other across the motherboard, one preventing the other from working depending on how the machine boots. I'd actually encountered this phenomenon before and found the solution was to use nothing but Nvidia cards. But the one PCI Express card was manufactured by ATI. (I have approximately nine AGP cards, none of which will work on motherboards made in the last two years.) By nightfall I'd settled on a way to use three of my four monitors, and (odd as this might sound) I felt handicapped.
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