A few weeks ago I asked for advice on Vista or XP for a new computer. Responses were mixed, but most of the people I talked to who actually use Vista are fine with it. So I got a new Vista 64 box and after 24 hours it seems to be working great. Sure is nice having fast new hardware.

I'm long past the point where new computers are fun; it's just a chore to set one up. But I spend all day in front of a computer, so fast hardware is nice. And the software experience is like a home to me, my environment. So I care a fair amount about the details. Here they are.

Choosing PC hardware is ridiculously complex. I found the Ars Technica guide the most useful resource. I went medium-end with a bias towards power efficient components: Intel Core Duo E8400 (45nm), NVidia 9800 GTX graphics card, 4 gigs of RAM, a 7200 RPM hard drive, and an Antec P182 case with a Seasonic power supply. You can definitely build a faster machine or one with more upgradability, but this seemed a good compromise.

I planned to order from EndPCNoise, I really like the last machine they built for me. But they were too expensive so on the advice of a friend I ordered from AVA Direct. Great website, they clearly understand PC hardware. Pre-sales service wasn't so great and my order got delayed for a week for no good reason, but their tech support has been fine. Then again, they made a couple of mistakes building the box. So that's a mixed recommendation.

Setting up a new computer is always a pain, particularly with the dog's breakfast of hardware that is the typical PC. My new computer had one major problem: the ethernet didn't work reliably. I had to grub around for a driver update and now the thing only will speak 10Mbps ethernet. My router's fault? My driver? Who knows. Also one minor problem, the expensive quiet CPU fan was always roaring at full speed. The solution was the magic BIOS setting for "fan control: voltage or PWM". Who the $#*$ knows what that means? One final hardware problem: the bluetooth mouse lagged about 3 seconds. The solution for that was to move the bluetooth dongle from behind the metal case. Thank you, radio waves.

Software has been a lot smoother than hardware. Vista itself is fine, I even appreciate the UAC security feature that drives most people nuts. I'm still not sure if the 64 bit OS was a mistake. I've got no problems with hardware drivers but the requirement for 64 bit shell extensions and signed drivers leaves some third party software hacks I like out in the cold. But mostly Vista looks and acts a lot like my XP box only with better UI for system configuration.

The big geegaw in Vista is Aero, the fancy 3d translucent UI. It's pretty silly, particularly the blurry privacy glass feature of window titlebars. And the details are ugly, like the high contrast sheen on the black taskbar whose colours you can't change. Aero looks like Microsoft was jealous of Apple's beautiful design and tried to mimic it but hired the same designers who build the $99 boomboxes with shiny black plastic, fake chrome trim, and giant useless VU meters. I'll probably end up turning all the nonsense off, but for now the novelty is amusing.

So overall the new computer is a success. A few hours of swearing on Twitter from frustrations, now it's good. Next step: migrate all my old software over. Adobe's advice on Photoshop was "buy another copy!". Um, no.

PS: I promised to mock all the people who said "get a Mac" in response to my request for Windows advice. But the first comment was such a great parody of Apple advocacy I don't need to do more than quote it. "You're intelligent enough that you should have gotten a Mac by now." Dear computer enthusiasts: when someone asks you for directions to a nearby synagogue you don't direct them to your evangelical Christian megachurch.

  2008-06-19 15:54 Z