Daily Archives: February 1, 2018

New Year, New PC

From hazy memory and patchy records I believe our family first got a PC in 1988, an Amstrad PC1512, so I thought I’d celebrate the 30th anniversary by buying a new computer as is time-honoured tradition and in no way a post factum and incredibly flimsy excuse to upgrade. Adapting the xkcd 2011 Guide to Making People Feel Old[1], the IBM System/360 came out closer to the Amstrad than this new PC; if you have no idea what a System/360 might be ask a grandparent and/or Wikipedia, whichever is less likely to shake a stick at you and reminisce at length about punched cards and paper tape.

I’m pretty sure this is my tenth system in total; for a while new PC purchases were a more-or-less biennial affair, from that first Amstrad sporting an 8086 processor screaming along at 8Mhz in 1988 through a 386SX (16Mhz) in 1991, 486DLC (33Mhz) in 1993, Pentium P133 in 1996, Pentium II 350 in 1999, Athlon 1400 in 2001, Athlon 2800 in 2003 and an Athlon 64 in 2005. The first few stick in the mind, also covering the shift from Mono CGA in 4 shades of grey, an occasional “beep” from a PC speaker, and 5.25″ disks to the glorious technicolour of VGA, symphonic Soundblasting, and vast hard drives holding upwards of 100Mb of data. After that it’s a bit hazy, a bland batch of beige boxes from whoever looked cheapest in the back of Computer Shopper, up to the Athlon 64. I built that one myself, with a bit of help from Melmoth (i.e. he built it and I fetched the occasional screwdriver, a couple of daiquiris and a mojito) and it was going strong when this blog started in 2006, taking things through to 2009 and my previous system, a Core i7 that’s done sterling service for the last eight years.

You could always upgrade bits and pieces – I remember inserting 128Kb memory chips into the PC1512 to bring it up to a staggering 640KB of RAM, and a 32MB hard card (combined hard disk and controller) was bliss after frequent swapping of 360KB floppies. The 486 entered the amazing world of “multimedia” when fitted with a CD-ROM drive and Soundblaster card, and somewhere in the early 2000s LCD screens became affordable so you could contemplate a monitor larger than 15″ without needing a six foot deep desk with structural reinforcement. The CPU was always a major bottleneck, though, needing an update every few years if you wanted to keep up with the latest games, and new generations of processors typically needed a new motherboard and assorted gubbins (to use the technical term). With the dedicated 3D graphics card becoming commonplace from the late 90s and eventually taking over as the key component for games performance it’s been easy to just pop in a new card when things started slowing down, so though there have only been a couple of whole new rigs since 2005 I’ve still been updating graphics cards every couple of years, making the extended lifespan of the Core i7 slightly less impressive. Still, eight years is a great run, and it could still cope quite happily with games like Destiny 2, albeit at lower graphics settings. It wasn’t that an upgrade was absolutely vital, but it felt like the time was about right (as much as the time is ever right to buy new technology) and I didn’t have any other ideas for a slightly belated birthday present.

It was most instructive building the Athlon 64 with Melmoth, and I’ve upgraded or replaced enough power supplies, graphics cards and hard drives over the years, but time and convenience are more of a priority these days (along with a nice comfy pair of slippers and a short nap in the afternoon) so it’s easier to buy a pre-assembled system. The previous one was a 3XS from Scan, and I certainly can’t fault it, but browsing around I opted for a Chillblast system this time. They offer a range of silent PCs, quiet performance being one of my priorities, and were very helpful via e-mail and on the phone to precisely tailor everything. It’s a Core i5, but several generations on from the i7 (this one is a “Coffee Lake”, apparently, presumably a code name rather than an innovative caffeinated liquid cooling system) with a GTX 1070 and a tiny M.2 SSD (physically tiny; a rough calculation suggests it can store more than ONE! MEEEEEELEON! 5.25″ floppy disks), and is really rather lovely. Early days yet, I’ve only got as far as installing a few things, but it doesn’t bat an eyelid running them with all the graphics options turned up to 11. Fingers crossed it’ll still be going strong in eight years!

[1] Did you realise the 2011 Guide to Making People Feel Old came out closer to the start of xkcd than the present day?