Friday 30 October 2009

Upgrade time

Just to prove I’m not falling under the sway of the oh-so-beguiling XBox 360, I’ve decided it’s about time to upgrade my PC. On the plus side the time between mandatory-if-you-want-to-play-the-latest-game upgrades is getting longer, it used to be pretty much every two years you’d need a complete new rig but I’ve had my current PC for a fair few years now, and with a processor upgrade and couple of graphics card changes (mostly prompted by previous components falling over) it’s still a reasonable system. On the downside, it’s getting ever more difficult to actually decide on what to upgrade to.

For our first PC in the late 80s there was basically one choice, the Amstrad PC1512, though there were two options: two 5.25″ disk drives and a mono display, or one disk drive and a colour display (it was another £100 or more for two disk drives *and* a colour display). I lobbied hard for the colour display (doubtless suggesting it would’ve been vital to some aspect of homework, though I can’t think what now; better for drawing graphs for maths, maybe), but thankfully was overruled. With the display being CGA capable of four colours it didn’t really matter so much whether, after black and white, the other two were cyan and magenta or light gray and dark gray. Curse of the Azure Bonds, on the other hand, came on four (or five?) 5.25″ disks, and every encounter required about three disk swaps; I dread to think how many it would’ve needed with just the one drive.

By the time of the first upgrade the PC boom had kicked in and there were plenty of options for vendors in the adverts in PC Plus, Computer Shopper and Micro Mart, but spec wasn’t too difficult. Intel processors were the only game in town, graphics were just “VGA”, and the price of memory and hard drives meant you usually didn’t have much choice with a limited budget. After that rivals to Intel had started arriving, my third PC had a Cyrix chip, and then the graphics card was something to pay more attention to as 3D accelerators came in. Though computer magazines kept expanding with more and more adverts, it was still nothing compared to the array of options brought by the internet, so these days it’s not just Intel or AMD, it’s i3, i5, i7, Opteron, Phenom and all points between available at a variety of speeds, sometimes with yet more options of cores and lord knows what, and every one has someone singing its praises and someone else panning it for some reason. Graphics cards, well, if you’re not bamboozled by the array of cards out there and their ever-shifting alpha-numeric appellations, you’re just not trying. For the first couple of PCs the case never even crossed my mind. Later it was “desktop” or “tower”, now there are choices out the proverbial wazoo, with their own merits in aesthetics, size, cost, airflow, cable management… For every vendor out there, somebody has had a terrible experience of faulty components and rude staff, and somebody else is full of praise for helpful people and an amazing product. Plumping for a Dell would be a simple option, and result in a perfectly satisfactory box I’m sure, but after a particularly noisy unit a few years back, and with the PC sitting in the lounge, I like to select quiet components where possible, so it’s time to draw up a list of bits then try and find them all in stock somewhere. Wish me luck!

No comments: