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2007-09-27: Notes on upgrade to a Dell Vostro 200 system

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Categories: All Personal Tech

Fortunately I happened to log in to Dell's site to check ETA, because apparently it's the 25th rather than next Wednesday. Need to make sure someone's around to take delivery if I'm not.

24/09/2007 checklist of expectations...

I'd be very surprised if it was as noisy as the current box. Basic self-builds don't have access to quiet PSU/other components at bulk discount prices. System builders also tend to use proven combinations of components that operate well together.

Check: quiet enough to have the box positioned on the desk, I think, where it'll hopefully suck in less dust. Gets noisy when optical drive is in use, of course, and the fans seem to ramp up when the system's under load, which is a nice bit of design.

I'll go back to connecting my laser printer with USB. For reasons unknown (guessed at as being driver issues) my Windows 2000 system tended to 'lose' the printer every so often, so I went back to a parallel connection. No big loss, really, but a niggle.

Check: may or may not be entirely fixed. Still installs a redundant copy of the driver attached to LPT1 rather than the USB connection. Lousy Samsung install CD, I guess.

Should get good performance out of DVD Shrink for making backups to take travelling. MP3 encoding was already fast on older hardware, so that should fly.

Check: half an hour to backup Blues Brothers (minus extras, thereby allocating a larger bitstream to the main picture) direct from disc. Not bad, not bad. Getting AVI back to MPEG-1/2 might also be practical, as Avi2dvd takes a couple of hours of crunching.

Clunkier framework apps such as jEdit should behave as responsively as native ones.

Check: it's still a little slow to load, though. Why do I persist with jEdit? Multiline regex support, free software, a plugin architecture and being able to edit parameters directly in the source before compiling.

The "320Gb" drive is probably going to work out at about 290Gb formatted.

Check: 295, in fact, not including the tiny utility partition at the beginning or the mysterious 3Gb partition at the end (more likely something to do with the same utility thing than just be wasted space, so I've left it for now.) Repartitioned 20/275.

A fair amount of bundled clutter because the system price is offset slightly by Dell preloading third-party applications from McAfee, Google, etc.

Check: simplest thing to do is reinstall. Make sure you have reasonably current system patches available, without going online if possible — faster and more secure. Try this to automate the process. Fortunately, Dell ship a normal XPSP2 CD and separate driver disc rather than a restore CD. Reinstalling also makes it easy to abandon bloatware such as PowerDVD and Roxio burning 'solutions'. ImgBurn and Deepburner (for multisession discs) are fine.

26/09/2007 and thereafter...

The music I've copied from CD for ease of use (only about 30Gb) can go on the main drive. My external hard drive becomes more of a portable backup device rather than somewhere to store anything that doesn't need to be in working space. Also, I've noticed things seem to wake up the drive more frequently than under 2000 when it's spun down... so I might unplug the thing except whilst taking backups. Unless I'm remembering incorrectly, the drive was specifically marked as a removable drive in My Computer under 2000, whereas here it's another Local Disk, albeit with AutoPlay options. I've deactivated that, but double-clicking on a .txt file (opening in Notepad) still inexplicably brings the drive to life.

The DVD writer in this desktop can go in another machine in the house. Actually, I might put the 40Gb hard drive into it as well. That would simplify some stuff, notably being able to slave the existing drive that's in there for purpose of reinstallation, which it's overdue for.

A bit of random crap can stay installed on the system, such as Worms World Party and some offline reference works (assuming I can find any that beat a net connection.)

It actually looks nice. Black metal and blue LEDs are 'in' this season, but Dell also opt for a gloss finish and chunky utilitarian air vents. Shows dust and fingerprints really well. (This is a plus: it's a good reminder to clean things frequently.)

Bit of an odd one: it sounds better using the same basic Creative speakers. This may be an audio illusion, but there seems to be a bit more definition and clarity. I'm certainly not complaining. Of course, it could just be that I'm not hearing it mixed in with the fans of the old system.

No media keys on this keyboard, so I'm using this svelte hotkeys application.

Having the taskbar locked is preferable, but windows try to open underneath it when it's at the top of the screen. Back to an app from the days of Win9x called Discover.

WinXP's "past items" log in the "customize notifications" options dialog for the tray area is annoying. It's stored in HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\TrayNotify

TrayWizard is still remarkably handy for minimising windows to a tray icon menu. Windows (ironically enough, given that it's the name of the damn OS) doesn't include a good window manager, so I tend to use this to avoid workspace clutter.

Although there are eight in total, four USB ports on the back is limiting when two are taken by the keyboard and mouse. Will have to try a hub sometime.

SpeedFan indicates that system temperatures are nice and chill.

Once everything's properly set up and I won't be installing software frequently, I'll use System Rescue CD to partimage the OS install. It's not usually an issue as I rarely reinstall unless absolutely necessary, but it would be a good habit to get into to do this monthly or so.

No floppy drive. Though I would've bothered to get one if I didn't have a laptop with a floppy drive in it. I've kept the drive from the old system (which has rust on it, to give some idea of the vintage) for sentimental reasons... but I haven't had cause to use floppy discs since I flashed the ROM of a Liteon DVD drive. [Unlocking the region coding with a third-party firmware might have been why the drive never liked multisession discs... actually, before I toss that drive, must borrow something off Glyn and see if the DVD drive in the new system can be conned into reading R1.]

Explorer.exe is still about as stable as theism.


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