Can you tell that I’m writing this post from a computer with a shiny new motherboard and CPU? Thought so. The bad thing about this week is that my old computer died and I had to buy new parts. The good thing about this week is that my old computer died and I had to buy new parts. It’s one of those things that a total pain in the ass and unwanted expense when it happens, but after it’s all fixed, it’s so new and shiny and fast.
Commencing electronics geekery. If you’re only in this for the yarn, just skip to the next post.
Ok, so there was the day of researching stuff on NewEgg, after which I decided to do a pretty substantial upgrade to an Intel Core i3 CPU – after all, if I’m buying something new, it would be nice if the new setup was relevant for another 5-6 years. Then I sought out a motherboard that would be compatible with my good old PATA/IDE hard drive — I really did not want to deal with the hassle (and expense) of buying a new one and reinstalling my operating system. So I ended up with this sweet Gigabyte H57M-USB3, which yes, has both a PATA connector and USB 3.0 ports. Heh, how’s that for a contradiction in terms? Anyone, a buddy of mine had some extra RAM, but it turns out that it was DDR2 and the new Intel stuff requires DDR3. So ploink! 4GB of DDR3 RAM added to the cart as well.
And yesterday it all came in! Most impressive was the motherboard bling. First, there’s the catchy blue soldermask. Green is like, so eighties. Give me something with blue or red soldermask, and it’s automatically kewl. This particular blue is very nice – not too dark, very medium and pretty.
Then there was the overlay – the connectors were called out quite nicely, and they didn’t miss a chance to advertise their blinginess. The logo for Dolby Home Theater is by the audio connector, and written in bold across the middle is “2oz Copper PCB“! Ha! Well I’d freaking hope so, it’s a power-hungry motherboard after all. Hilarious that it’s written on the board, calling attention to that “feature” – I mean, really. How many people actually know what that means? Funny. Had I known that was a selling point, I would’ve written the copper weight on all the PCBs I’ve made….
My inner PCB geek also finds it strange how much space is wasted on making the CPU swappable. First, the idea of that is just kind of weird for me, coming from a background where small, lightweight, highly integrated electronics is key. It’s just funny – making a chip have a touch-contact interface that’s that power-hungry, and has that many connections, plus a crapton of crazy high-speed connections. I wonder how many of those pins are just power? And the footprint required for the mounting of that chip is about 10 times bigger than the chip itself, not to mention the gigantic heat sink. Weird!
Anywhoo….So the hardware all fits together great, installation is a piece of cake. I push the switch – it starts! Yay! It goes thru the bios screen, gets to Windows, starts to the load the desktop – when the Windows Activation window pops up and proceeds to deny me access to my own legitimate copy, and therefore, my desktop and essentially entire computer. Awesome. The next 2 hours went like this:
- Tried to authorize via internet. Can’t do that because the drivers for the ethernet on the new motherboard haven’t been installed yet. Can’t access the desktop to install those drivers because Windows Activation won’t let me.
- Tried to authorize via phone. The number puts you into an automated system where you have to say a 42-digit number in 7 parts of 6. Authorization is invalid. The automated system does not give me to a real person, it tells me to go to the internet.
- I got to the internet on my laptop (2 computers always necessary for occasions like this), internet says to authorize by phone. I go back to the automated system and after 5 minutes of telling it every way I know how that I’d like to speak to a customer service representative/agent/operator/real live person, damn you! – I finally get to one.
- Who barely speaks English. I can understand a lot of accents, I don’t usually find that too challenging, but she had an incredibly thick one and honestly could not pronounce English letters and sounds. I read the entire 42-digit number to her, and of course, the activation is still invalid. I explain that I’m sure the problem is that I’ve had to replace my motherboard and the original computer was a pre-made, pre-installed deal, and probably the activation is tied to that original piece of hardware, so I need to speak with someone who can sort that out.
- She tells me I have to email a “scanned” copy of my certificate of authenticity and a description of my problem to an email address that I have to have her repeat 3 times in order figure out what she’s saying. I don’t bother explaining to her that there’s no way I can scan my certificate of authenticity, since it’s a sticker that is stuck to the back of my computer. I take a picture of it instead, write an email about my sob story of motherboard replacement, and send it off.
- The email bounces. No such address. Steam starts to come out of my ears.
- I look up a “normal” customer service number for Microsoft. After 5 more minutes of wading through an automated support system, I finally get to a real person again. I explain my problem. He asks why I didn’t call back the Activation department. I explain that I had to wade through the phone system for 5 minutes just to get to a real person and then that person had such a thick accent that I couldn’t understand what she was saying and she said I was supposed to send an email and it bounced. I was hoping to reach a person this time that I could understand and who could actually help me.
- At which point a miracle happened. He was sympathetic, bypassed some normal run-around that he was supposed to give me, and transferred me directly to another real live person in technical support.
- Who was also sympathetic and helpful. Also accented, but only mildly so and very easy to understand. There was the first false start of starting in safe mode, and deleting part of a registry entry (and man, talk about being nervous that customer service is going to screw up your entire system….), which didn’t screw up my computer but didn’t work either. But then he got authorization to give me a new product key, one which apparently isn’t tied to motherboard hardware, and voila! Here I am. Legitimacy preserved and I didn’t have to reinstall the operating system or “upgrade” to Windows 7. Seriously, people. I don’t need that shit right now, stop telling me that I do.
Step one – back up hard drive. Except that the external 500 GB drive I use for that appears to be dying. Plug into USB and it mounts and dismounts erratically. Hmmm. Where did I find that USB cable I’m using anyway? It looks kind of skinny and wimpy for powering a hard drive and why does it have a Motorola symbol on it? Jeez, is that from my old RAZR phone? Crap, I think it is….hey this white Apple USB cable looks pretty burly, it even has a big ol’ ferrite bead in the middle of it. Plugged that in and everything seems OK again. Backed up hard drive succesfully!
Now, I did overlook the one small matter of my CD/DVD drive also being a PATA/IDE interface, and the motherboard only has one PATA connector, which I’m using for the hard drive. And I need to install a bunch of drivers off of the CD the motherboard came with, so…..oh well, off to Best Butt for a SATA CD drive. Besides, I had to return the hard drive enclosure that I was going to use to access my files while waiting for the motherboard to come in, which worked the first time I plugged it in and then never powered up again. Oh, and I had ordered a different one off of Amazon, only to find when it came in that I goofed and ordered a 2.5″ one instead of a 3.5″. (Anyone need a 2.5″ PATA USB enclosure? $23!) Are you getting my drift of how bad my computer mojo has been lately? I think this good old GI Joe PSA sums it all up:
Back home, out with the old CD drive, in with the new (which doesn’t fit to the curvy front panel of my case very well, so there’s a 1cm gap that looks super-ghetto). Boot computer. USB hard drive is still plugged in and computer decides to run check disk on it. It finds weirdness and starts to repair stuff. Great. Then it finishes and just stops on the check disk screen. Nothing. Is it trying to boot off of it, what’s going on? I give up and go to Spike’s and drink beer with friends. I tell them my sob story – “But no, you think that’s bad? Wait, there’s more!” and we all laugh.
I come home in a better mood. Reboot and unplug the USB hard drive. Install the drivers from the new CD drive, and yay! I have The Interbutt again! Then…just to see what a difference going to the new CPU and 4GB of RAM made….I launched Adobe Illustrator. Which start in like 5 seconds instead of 5 minutes. Woooo!!! I love my new computer.