Sometimes computers make me feel stupid

Aka “What I did on my Easter weekend”

To go along with a new home for my personal blog (the one you’re reading now) I decided to upgrade my home computer too.

I bought my current machine in 2003. It was a basic system built by a local shop. It had an Athlon XP 2200, 40 GB Hard drive, 256K ram, CD writer, and the motherboard had LAN, video, and sound built in. That machine was also when I upgraded to Win XP Home after about 5 years using Win 98 on a box I built myself back in 1998.

I got a basic system so I could tweak it myself and I added a DVD drive, a bigger AGP video card, a 100 MB second drive, and 120 MB external USB hard drive. I like messing around with video files – I now have a capture card.

Recently I had some extra cash after a bonus I got at work and thought about finally upgrading my Win 98 box to the 21st century so I looked for a motherboard and CPU combo similar to what I had in my XP box. While shopping online I realized computer technology had left me behind. The common CPU selling today is an Athlon 64 type, and the new video card form is PCI Express.

Then I had the thought, “Why blow cash on my Win 98 box?” So I decided to upgrade the CPU and Motherboard of my Win XP box.

I wanted a mobo and CPU combo package and I found a better selection and pricing online. My usual store is Tiger Direct and I got the combo, fan, and grease for about $240. The board doesn’t have PCI Express but since I’m not a major gamer my AGP card will work just as well.

Having not worked with changing a motherboard with XP I searched the web and read up on the subject. When I moved my 98 to a new motherboard I just had to remove all the devices and when it booted the first time with the new board I just had to install the correct drivers.

XP is more complicated. An article on The Elder Geek was a big help. I also used the help for creating a slipstreamed version of XP with SP2 since I started with SP1 and added SP2 as an update. That would save me a step by repairing the install with SP2 instead of going back to SP1 then getting the updates again.

I first backed up my current HD as an image on my external hard drive. Then I shut down and pulled out the old board. I put the new CPU in the new board, greased it up, and added the new fan. Then I put the new board in and hooked it all up.

I did the repair part of the Elder Geek instructions and everything seemed to ok. I did have trouble with the graphics driver. I should have uninstalled the ATI drivers before shutting down.

I also had trouble with the Windows Installer v3.1 used by some software to install itself. It seems something got messed up and XP refused to install Installer again. After hours of research I found a document that said to go into dllcache and rename the msi related dlls and reinstall through Update. Update will say it failed but it really didn’t. (Update complaining about it is the reason I tried to reinstall it in the first place.) Read details at this article Catch 22: Can’t Install Windows Installer

After doing that I then still had trouble with it because the service it uses – MSIServer – was not running and the reg key was missing. I could not find any articles to help with that so on a lark I just created an empty reg key manually then hoped that I would find out what values were in it. I reinstalled Windows Installer with a stand alone file downloaded from Microsoft and rebooted when it didn’t give me an error.

I went back to the reg key and it was full of values and the service was running. Next I downloaded all the updates to XP not included in my slipstream disc.

Another minor problem was trying to update Real Player. It seems to conflict with the beta of version 4 of the Google Toolbar for IE 6. Don’t know why and don’t care. Uninstalled the toolbar and Real Player updated fine. I also had to reenter my registration key for WinDVD 7 from Intervideo but except for that all my programs seem to be working.

You know how when people renovate a kitchen or bathroom and then redo other rooms because they don’t match? I got that after redoing my computer.

Modern desktops have what is called a soft power button. You press a button on the front and your computer starts up but it isn’t a switch like a light switch. When you press it, it shorts two pins on the motherboard and sends a signal to the power supply to give full power and that starts the system.

After the upgrade my switch didn’t seem to work. I had to turn off the main switch on the power supply then turn it on then hit the front button.

My new system inherited the 300 W power supply the old board used and I figured and by reading the motherboard book it needed it a new one with more watts to be safe.

On Thursday I went to my local computer store – Microcenter – and bought a 400 watt Antec Smart Power 2 power supply. It has two fans for cooling and came with two SATA connections and a PCI Express connection should I decide to upgrade the board again to a PCI Express capable board in the future.

I also bought 1 GB of DDR400 Ram – they had a special on 512 MB sticks. I also got a new Floppy drive – yes I’m still old school and feel better when I have a floppy drive to use should I need to boot my system after a major crash.

The new power supply is what my system needed and the case power button works again as it should. It also helped my speakers. I must have had a dying power supply.

I still plan on getting a new Video card. The one I got last year just has some display corruption issues that I have not been able to solve. I think I just got a passable board – it works but when the display corrupts it is no fun having to reboot.

I also need to get a new KVM switcher. I have two systems and I want to share monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The one I have is an automatic one but causes my XP box to start up with an keyboard error when I boot up. A reboot clears that up. I probably need to get one with its own power supply.

Also with the extra memory and new power supply it seems to be running hotter so I will probably get another case fan or one that sits in an empty drive bay.

In a few weeks my Win 98 box will be getting the old Athlon XP and board (once I’m sure my new board is ok). I keep 98 around because I have a few games I still play and I also use it as a sandbox for trying things out.

I will be wiping the hard drive and doing a clean install when I do upgrade it. I have been running it for more than 5 years and it is on the verge of a collapse. The registry has gone belly up a few times.

I also want to get rid of some programs I no longer use either because they are old or I upgraded when I moved to XP and there might be an issue with what is legal and what is not from the days when I couldn’t afford the programs I used. Since moving to XP I buy all my software or use open source free programs.

The only issue with a clean install is that Microsoft only still offers security updates. Hopefully I won’t have any major issues or it will be something I can find on the net somewhere.

In the future, should I upgrade to Vista then I will retire Windows 98 and install XP Home on it.

How did you spend your Easter weekend?