Hakuna matata, ain't no passing phaaaaase...

You don't have to have the solution...

2002-09-17Romancing the Personal Computer industry.


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Okay, I've been drooling over technology again (something which is rarer that you might expect; I'm an IT geek on the basis that I use technology to do stuff I find interesting, not that I view system specs as a phallic metaphor. ;) ) For this reason and because whilst I love this laptop I like to have some user-serviceable parts and a degree of flexibility, I'm looking toward micro-ATX as a comprehensive all-in-one solution for the future. As well as handling all the tasks I usually throw at a PC, I'm looking toward a media box which could fit into the kind of single-room bedroom/study space it is my wont to compact into.

Small is good... and offers quiet, in this case, which counts when you're trying to watch films. I'm also relatively unencumbered by an obsessive need to upgrade on a regular basis; replacing a motherboard usually doesn't happen—make a spare basic box to sell on and get a new case, is my logic. Thus the Shuttle XPC looks quite ideal; for a little under £300 at time of writing, you get a case and a dinky motherboard offering three USB 2.0 / FireWire ports, LAN, basic on-board AGP, digital 5.1 sound, and some nifty cooling. To this would be added an average P4 processor, however much hard-drive one can get for ~£100 these days (hopefully around 80Gb), a combi DVD/CDRW drive, a separate AGP "All In Wonder"-style graphics card with TV out and TV tuner, an external USB modem, and about 512Mb of RAM. I might buckle and go for surround speakers, which I'm not actually very fond of, plus of course a decent Logitech wheelmouse and a nice natural keyboard. Monitor-wise, anything which handles 100Hz refresh rates in base mode is fine (the dream system might include a TFT screen, but the fact that a 17" CRT is fine as either a TV or working area makes me ambivalent.)

Obviously this is currently a pipe-dream, but I find it very encouraging that manufacturers are turning to practical aesthetics rather than pointless overheating 3GHz+ monsters with graphics cards churning out more frames a second than the card refreshes the display at. Connectivity is another question I would have to ask of a 'new-style' box... I prefer PS2 mice, feeling USB offers precisely nothing to them or keyboards... so, if necessary, a keyboard acting as a USB hub with the mouse also attached would be an expansion requirement. I'm keen to acquire a good quality mid-range digital camera eventually, for something more than website photos, so keeping free powered USB ports would be preferable. A USB-powered ZIP drive would also be a nice luxury item (handy for collecting documents on the move)... and since the case may not support a parallel port, one of those "old connector" expansion boards might prove necessary. Whichever sodding idiot designers decided that USB was a suitable standard for printers and cut mobo support—invalidating a decade of reliable devices overnight—they thoroughly deserve much pain. :mad:

I'm rather attached to the notion of being able to use any printer which presents itself, you see... I can accept that a serial port is pretty useless these days, but there are millions of perfectly capable parallel printers in circulation. Most people simply need good-quality black text output, and a vintage laser printer is a perfect solution; you can run a parallel switcher if you want to keep an inkjet around for occasional colour usage. Likewise the bandwidth of USB (itself no great thing in these days of FireWire and USB 2.0) is wasted on input peripherals. USB hubs are unnecessarily ugly kludges; cases which don't offer other ports should provide at least half a dozen of the things.

I don't consider myself an atypical user now, either. Digital imaging (both scanners & cameras), TV tuners, personal organisers, digital radio, input peripherals and removable storage devices all share the same pool of resources on a few USB ports—all are common consumer goods. Those ports are not enough, and this issue will become more pronounced as the functional and quiet micro-PC becomes less of a novelty purchase. USB ports are a small cost portion of a motherboard, and a potential system bottleneck.

Those of you wondering about the title of this article will be answered by summation, which is: By the time I have the disposable income to splurge on a nice PC I shan't upgrade much (if at all) in its lifetime, I expect these problems not to be an issue. The consumer expects enabling convenience from innovation, not further hindrance. To put it in other terms: If you don't ring me back after this date, I'll be gunning for you... :p

Oh, and whilst Win2K is looking nicer, WinXP can still sod right off...


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