It’s gonna get geeky up in here…
It’s been quite awhile since a full-fledged computer upgrade. The last one was around 2004, when I finally moved from a PII-450 to a nifty 1.8Ghz AthlonXP2500+ that Dad got me for my birthday. I’ve put a bunch of different parts in that rig over the years, more RAM, better video cards, etc., but as a main rig, it was beyond time to get something better. That and Windows 7 just didn’t agree with this box. It would run fine for an hour or two, sometimes three, then bluescreen and reboot. Highly annoying. So over the past weekend I did the great computer case shuffle, clearing what used to be my server (the 1Ghz PIII) out of its case, and stuffing the Athlon in there for Tiff’s use in the newly-moved office/craft room. As an aside, the Athlon rig has been rock solid after putting XP Pro back on it, so it was definitely software-related bluescreens, not a hardware/Power Supply issue. The 1Ghz needs a case now, and that’ll eventually live in the garage where it will replace the Compaq Celeron 633Mhz that needs to be put down.
Once again Mom & Dad were the catalyst with a gift card from Newegg. I’ve actually had a bunch of stuff picked out for a month or so, sitting in a wishlist, hemming and hawing over pulling the trigger. So the GC put me over the hump and I revamped. Since anything I got was going to be a vast improvement, I didn’t go balls-out, just economical. The Antec SX830 case Dad got me originally is really nice, so that remained, but I completely gutted it (save for the hard drive) and started over. First up, CPU and motherboard. After poking around Newegg, checking out their deals vs. ratings, I decided on a Dual-Core Pentium chip (E5200 Wolfdale 2.5Ghz), as it was a bit cheaper than a Core 2 Duo, and the associated mobo’s weren’t as expensive either. The mobo is a Gigabyte GA-G41M-ES2L, which as a Micro-ATX board makes the case look cavernous. It got pretty solid reviews, so I trust it’ll work as well for me. Next up, RAM. The board supports 8GB, but I don’t really need that much at this point, so I bought 4GB and got a set of 2x2GB Dual Channel G.Skill sticks. All my video cards were AGP, so had to get a video card too, and found a nice, cheap 512MB Radeon 4350 that has HDMI out. Finally, I needed a power supply for all this good stuff, and this Corsair 400W supply seemed to fit the bill. The parts showed up at work on Monday afternoon, and it was a tough wait until the end of the day, just looking at the boxes and not being able to put it together!
As I’m wont to do with new, relatively expensive electronics, I put everything in slowly and deliberately. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that the mobo had pins instead of the CPU, and that it’s not socketed per se, but the pins make contact with the pads on the CPU, which is just kinda forced down by the spreader, lever, and heatsink/fan. (I actually looked up a video Intel had online about installing the CPU, because I didn’t want to crush anything!) Everything else was far less nerve racking, and after I got everything assembled, amazingly enough, it powered on and fired up the first time out. I’m usually not that lucky, something’s inevitably plugged in wrong, not plugged in, etc.
The OS installation proved to be a bit trickier than the hardware was, as working with Windows 7 gets a little interesting. I had initially purchased a download version of Win7 Pro through the Digital River college promotion , and that was installed and activated. I jumped through some hoops to create an ISO out of the download I got, and used that disc first. It installed just fine, save for the fact that it’s the 32-bit version, and I want the 64-bit version. Oops. Since Digital River had so many issues with the downloads, activation, different versions and the like, they made available an ISO that contains both x32 and x64 kernels. So I wiped and re-installed with that one. I go to put my (legit) key in, and it spits it back at me saying its the wrong SKU. Because this ISO loads as Home Premium, and my key is for Pro. Oops. After some reading, I discovered that the install will let you continue without putting a key in at all, it’ll just die after 30 days when you don’t activate it. So now that I was able to continue, I determined that it indeed installed the 64-bit version, it’s just that it’s Home Premium, and it’s key-less and not activated.
Now what? Well, Microsoft did something smart this time around. All Win7 media has all versions included in the same image, they’re just unlocked by whatever key you have (and all keys will work for either x32 or x64, thankfully), which allows them to offer something called Anytime Upgrade. Clicking the appropriate applet in the Control Panel prompts you to put in your “upgrade key”. I figured I’d give my Pro key a shot, and sure enough, the machine went through the motions, rebooted a couple times, and when the dust settled I had a 64-bit Win7 Pro install. Go to activate it online… “Sorry Eric, I can’t let you do that.” Since it had been activated once already, it surely wasn’t going to let me do it again. And there’s no way to deactivate Win7 off the first machine before installing it on a different one anyway. What they make you do is call an automated system, then tell the nice computer lady the seven blocks of six digits that show up in the activation app. The system then asks how many computers you have this copy of Win7 installed on. I’m guessing the only right answer here is “one”, which is what I said (is that legally binding?). It then gives you a different batch of digits to punch into the activation app, click OK, and PRESTO, my one and only, LEGAL, Win7 Pro installation is ready to rock.
I can avoid the Anytime Upgrade thing in the future by making another copy of that ISO without the ei.cfg file, which is the only thing that tells the install which version it’s supposed to be. This allows you to use any valid key, and install anything from Home Basic to Ultimate off of the same disc. Activation should be less painful if I ever have to reinstall because the hardware won’t have significantly changed.
So that’s the story so far, now it’s on to the endless configuring, tweaking, and general getting-stuff-the-way-I-want-it. Reloading the basics is made MUCH easier thanks to a website called ninite.com, which lets you select which apps you want to install, then rolls a small little installer which you download and run. This installer simutaneously downloads and installs all the apps in one shot. This is mega handy for re-installs!