Category Archives: Technology

It’s All Relative

One of the downsides to my new desktop is it isn’t exactly what you’d call mobile. I guess I was spoiled with my laptop; even though I didn’t drag it around much, I always had the option of unhooking the extra peripherals and plopping down on the couch next to my girlfriend. With the tower, not so much. This means that if I want to use the not inconsiderable computing power that is now at my disposal, I have to sequester myself in my office.

Every once in a while I’ll get fed up with this arrangement and drag my laptop back out. Sure, I won’t be able to play the newest games, but it’s much easier to type on than my tablet, and we can spend time together even while I’m blogging.

But holy cow does it seem slow now.

I know that it really hasn’t slowed down that much since I built my new computer. It just seems like it. Windows seems to take forever to load, programs respond more sluggishly (or at least seem to), et cetera. And it’s not like this is a new experience for me. This inevitably happens every time I upgrade my hardware. Maybe it’s exacerbated by how long I generally wait between upgrade cycles; intermediate upgrades would be less drastic, but are extremely hard to do on a laptop.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that I was able to build my own computer. It’s just that I miss the portability afforded by the laptop form factor. I’ve experimented a bit with network streaming and remote desktop applications, but either the technology isn’t there or our wireless network backbone just isn’t sturdy enough.

But even as I write this (on my laptop, sitting on the couch), I can feel the keyboard warming up, the battery running down, and I am reminded why I upgraded. I just wish the change in performance wasn’t thrown into such sharp relief.

Maybe I should install Linux?

Hosting Hoedown

NOTE: If you can’t follow this link from Facebook/Tumblr/whatever, your DNS probably hasn’t updated. Try again later.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you have probably realized that I don’t really do well with change. At the same time, I also don’t like spending money I don’t have to. Things can get, shall we say, “interesting” when these two aspects of my personality interact. Case in point: I recently switched my website hosting to another provider.

I originally bought this domain and hosting plan for my architectural portfolio site at the end of grad school, when I realized that I was almost done and should have started looking for a job months ago. So I did my usual firehose-style research and settled on GoDaddy as one of the easier options. I didn’t need much, after all, just a place I could install WordPress and whisper from my tiny molehill “Look at me!”

And for the most part, they were pretty inoffensive. But then it came out that they supported SOPA, and I decided to take my business elsewhere. I ended up with Hostgator for my hosting, and Namecheap for my domain registration; I figured not having all my eggs in one basket wasn’t necessarily a bad idea.

And Hostgator treated me well too. Never really had any technical problems. But then I realized that the nice juicy deal I had gotten for my first year was all too temporary. How did I find this out you ask? Well, because they auto-renewed my service and I noticed a suspiciously high credit card bill that month. Of course, by the time I realized this I had already been charged for a year. But I vowed that next time, this would not happen. Next time, I would look at my options, and if I could find a better deal I would take it!

And then I promptly forgot about it.

But through sheer luck, my credit card company sent me a new card with a different number last year, so the card that Hostgator had on file was no longer valid. So rather than receiving a bill, I received a “Your bill could not be paid” notice. Well, I was not one to let this opportunity pass me by!

So I switched to TotalChoice, which ended up being about half what I paid at Hostgator. I can heartily recommend them. Their customer support response time is impeccable, and they’ve managed to fix whatever issues I’ve had promptly and permanently. The only downside to switching with an active blog is that DNS changes take a while to propagate. For those less-technical, that means that it takes a while for the Internet to know to point my URL to the new host. So there may be some service interruptions as people are sent to the old host instead.

But even with this minor headache, I’m happy to be saving myself a fair amount of money. Now if I can just prevent myself from finding any other, better deals out there I’ll be good.

(spoiler: I didn’t. Oh well, maybe next year.)

Sudden Cornucopia

So I figured out why I thought building a new computer was going to take so much longer. Turns out that the real time sink is on the software side of things. At least they’ve got Windows installation down to taking less time than it did in the XP days, and certainly helped as well. But it turns out there’s a downside to having a largely virtual game collection: you have to re-download everything.

This is going to veer straight into First World Problems territory, but oh well. We don’t have the fastest Internet connection at our place, but it’s generally fast enough for what we do (surfing, Netflix, the occasional online game). And sure, I’ve had to wait for multi-gigabye games to download in the past. But I always had something else to play or do while I was waiting for things to arrive. And believe it or not, that’s kinda hard to do on a fresh install.

So I spent a lot of time this weekend twiddling my thumbs, waiting for bits to inch their way down our DSL line. But eventually I discovered a workaround: it turns out that Steam-installed games are largely portable. You can copy the game files over, along with a corresponding app manifest file, and after a Steam client restart the game is there! So I dug out my high capacity flash drives and transferred the games that I had already downloaded to my laptop via sneakernet to my new desktop. All told, I saved myself about 50 GB of downloading. Which of course means I can use that time to download new games!

Of course, now that I have a computer that can run all the games in my Steam and GOG collections I’m faced with another problem: what the heck do I play? There’s a number of titles I’ve been itching to try, but how do I choose which ones to turn to first? I’m like a kid in a candy shop, paralyzed by choice and unsure what to throw my resources at first. Do I play a little bit of several games? Or do I commit myself to one from start to finish? And if I do the latter, do I do a long, story-driven one or a quick but entertaining diversion?

It doesn’t help that I’ve now got two terabytes of hard drive space, which is more than all my past computers combined. I’m effectively no longer limited by having to uninstall one game to make room for the next. For now, at least; technology inexorably marches on, and I’m sure far sooner than I’d like I’ll be feeling the upgrade itch. But for now, and for hopefully quite a while, I’ll be content with knowing that even if I can’t decide what game to play, I now have the horsepower to crank those graphics settings all the way to max whenever I finally do make a decision.


So that whole “set aside a lot of time to assemble the computer” thing? Turns out that putting the parts together doesn’t take as long as I thought it did. Over the course of the past few days I’ve chipped away at the hardware side of things, and once I got over my fear of touching expensive electronics in case I broke them, it went really fast.

Yes, I was nervous; I think it’s okay to admit that. In fact, I was quite apprehensive when the processor made this oh-so-wonderful almost-crunching sound when I locked it into the motherboard. But I guess that was just the sound of the pins being depressed to make the connection, because it doesn’t seem to have adversely affected anything.

In fact, the processor seemed to be the main source of apprehension. Seating the chip, applying thermal paste, and even attaching the giant after-market cooler was an experience in “Is it supposed to look like that, I guess…” Mounting the motherboard inside the case was also a bit of a challenge. I had one screw that just didn’t want to align (the last one, of course), so I ended up taking out all the others and removing it right before I had to head to work. Turns out that I was just hungry and losing dexterity, because when I came back to it in the afternoon (and started with the problem screw) it went right in.

Everything else went pretty smoothly. I’ve switched out RAM before, as well as expansion cards, so those all went in with a satisfying click. Attaching the power cables was somewhat interesting, since some of them had to be bent or stretched slightly into position. But I was sure to heed the advice of my coworker and not force anything, and it seems to have worked out.

I even powered it on for the first time! Sure, I haven’t had a chance to install the storage drives or operating systems, but I was able to boot to the BIOS just fine. Well, once I remembered to plug the power supply into the wall, that is. Some things never change, I guess. And hoo boy, does that green fan look awesome. I may be picking up some more.

Test boot on the test bench

Test boot on the test bench.  The picture doesn’t really do the fan justice.


So what have I done with this enormous bounty of new computing hardware? Well, to tell the truth… a whole lot of nothing so far.

You see, I picked up all this stuff on Sunday. But there’s this little issue during the week of having to go to work. Plus having my evenings largely booked with various activities, like fighter practices and Marvel television shows. And this being my first build and all, I really want to take my time and make it special. Sure, I guess I could stay up until midnight or later and just crank the thing out, but I’ve got a busy week at work and kind of need all my available faculties. Plus, this being a delicate operation and all, I want to make sure I’ve done all the research I can, reading tutorials, watching how-to’s, and making sure everything is Just So™.

I guess, if I had to be honest, I might be just a little nervous. Sure, it’s true I’ve replaced the occasional hard drive or swapped out a stick or two of RAM over the years, but I’ve never done of this scale before. I’ve never had to apply thermal paste. I’ve never had to make sure I don’t bend CPU pins or fry extremely sensitive electronics with static electricity. I’ve never invested this much money in something that might go horribly wrong.

Well, aside from grad school, I guess.

I’m probably overthinking things again (big surprise, I know). I’m sure things will go fine; after all, I’m not a person who shies away from opening up electronics just to see what’s inside. But like I said, I want to make the “build moment” special, a momentous occasion as I take my rightful place amongst the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race. I want to be able to take my time, to not have to make progress in fits and spurts in the hour or so each night between finishing my activities and having to go to bed. And unfortunately, the closest chunk of time I can really see in my near future is this Saturday. But I don’t want to have to wait that long. But I don’t want to sacrifice any of my other activities, like seeing my friends or making it to the first fighter practice of the year…

You get the idea. “Wah wah wah, being a responsible adult sucks.” And it does. So for now my new hardware components sit on the table next to my desk, mocking me from their boxes. Their siren song promising both challenge and reward. Waiting.

I’ve at least unpacked my case, so that’s something.  And I’ve got a lot of manuals to read…

The Pilgrimage

It’s amazing how much clarity a few days can bring. Since I wrote the last few posts*, I finally got up the courage to go out to Micro Center and spend enormous gobs of money on fancy toys and hardware. More accurately, I went and bought stuff before I had a chance to psych myself out. Again.

So long story short, I finally got to make my long-anticipated pilgrimage to Micro Center to buy my parts to build my new computer. And it was awesome.

Sure, I’ve shopped at Micro Center before; it’s such an awesome store, how could you not? But I know better than to shop there too often, since it’s far too easy to buy much more than you intend to. And I had only been there in the past for little things, like a cheap keyboard or a housing for an old hard drive. I had never really invested into things. But doing so, being able to walk out the door with the myriad pieces required to build a completely new computing platform with my own bare hands.

I’m a little excited, can’t you tell?

How did I go about making my final decisions? Well, I basically thought and worried and went back and forth until I was annoyed enough with myself, then I went out and did something drastic before I could change my mind. My girlfriend was nice enough to humor me as I wandered the store; I really only got hung up on my choice of cases. They didn’t have the exact one I wanted (with a side window), so I made the mistake of looking at other options while in the store. I know, I know, I should really know better than that. But apparently I don’t, because I spent far too much time going back and forth about things before eventually settling on the non-windowed version of the case I had come in looking for.

What’s that, you say? You want to know what I ended up getting? Well, feast your eyes on the obligatory pre-assembly box photo!

The complete haul.

The complete haul.

As for specs, this is what I ended up going with:

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K

  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z97-SLI

  • RAM: 8 GB Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR3-1600

  • SSD: 128 GB Sandisk

  • Hard Drive: 2 TB Western Digital Black

  • Video Card: MSI Geforce GTX 970 OC

  • Case: Corsair Carbide 300R

  • Power Supply: EVGA 600B

  • DVD Drive: LG DVD Burner

  • WiFi: Tenda W332P PCI card

  • Fans: 2 included w/ case; Corsair SP120 Green (because my girlfriend loves me and I apparently amuse her)

I haven’t had a chance to start assembling things yet, but I did get all my available rebates off in the mail and am just waiting for a long enough stretch of time where I can start tinkering. I plan to write about the process, and may even go into why I chose the parts I did if I remember (TLDR: they were low price but good quality, and in stock).


* It may seem fairly sudden, but the last two posts were written on Friday, and this one was written on Monday. Yay, New Year buffer!

Overthinkers Anonymous

Well, I’ve reached a new milestone in my PC-building adventure: I am officially Thinking Too Much!

I tend to do this a lot, and have basically accepted it as a natural part of my decision-making process. Sure, it may not be the most efficient method, but I can’t seem to break the habit so I might as well just own it.

The way it tends to work is this: I’ll start my research, casting as wide a net as possible and basically poring over any source even remotely relevant to my subject. In regards to building a PC, this has involved sources such as Reddit, PCPartPicker, and professional review sites. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of information out there (a lot in the form of acronyms, but that’s beside the point). Almost too much.

Of course, the more research I do, the more I realize I don’t know, and the more variables I start to consider. Throw my ever-present frugality into the mix, and it gets really hard to make a decision. “Is this motherboard better? But this one’s on sale. And this other one looks perfect, but is currently out of stock…”

That’s the great thing about shopping and planning: anything is possible until you actually start spending money. And I’m at the point where I should probably start spending money, otherwise I’ll keep thinking myself in circles and it’ll be another year before I actually get around to building my new computer. And by that point, all my knowledge will be outdated and the whole cycle will start over.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m starting to realize there’s never going to be a “perfect” time time make a decision, or a “perfect” suite of hardware. I’m going to have to make compromises and pull things kicking and screaming out of the realm of theory and into messy reality.

When is that going to happen? I don’t know. But I think I’ll wait a couple days to see if Micro Center gets any motherboards back in stock before I pull the trigger.

Finally Friday

Not much to say today. It was a long week, and I’ve still got a lot to do before the weekend finishes. I’m tired, overwhelmed, and ready to be done. So, you know, the usual state for a working schlub.

But hey! I did get a chance to stop by Micro Center this afternoon. They’re especially crowded this time of year; apparently remote-control drones and helicopters are big right now. I primarily went in to look, mostly at tower cases. It’s hard to get a sense of scale from Internet pics, and while there selection wasn’t great (black, black, more black, and oh yeah, some white), at least I have a better idea what scale of hulking monstrosity I’m likely to end up with.

I didn’t make it out completely unscathed, of course. I ended up, mostly on a whim, picking up a tube of thermal paste. My laptop’s been running fairly hot lately, so much so that it actually shut down without warning while on battery power within the last week or so. I figure that refreshing the thermal paste probably couldn’t hurt, and it’ll be good practice for when I have to install the cooler on my own build.

That’s all I’ve got. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go be a manly man and finish sewing my undertunic for this weekend.

Getting To The Big Questions

Yesterday’s post felt awfully whiny, and for that I apologize. I guess it’s just hard for me to get into “the Christmas Spirit” (whatever that means) these days. Most holidays don’t seem to faze me, to be honest. Sure, I’m thankful for the day off or whatever, but everything else just strikes me as blasé. Maybe it’s because I don’t really have a strong sense of time; one day feels like the next, and without outside markers it can be hard to really be aware of the passage of time. Part of getting golder, I guess.

But that enough downer stuff. The good news is my PC build research is progressing! The interminable sea of numbers and acronyms is slowly but surely starting to make sense. There’s still a lot of questions that need answered, but I’m avoiding those for the moment and trying to enjoy looking at all the fancy motherboards and graphics cards and whatnot.

One of the big things I’m struggling with is the AMD/Intel question. Like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to both choices, and finding balanced, objective analysis beyond “it depends what you’re going for” online is hard to say the least. Sure, AMD chips tend to run cheaper, but Intel chips tend to be faster. I’ll admit to being a little biased by previous experience, as well: all my past computers have been Intel/Nvidia setups, so the Intel naming scheme makes a lot more sense to me. With AMD, I have to completely re-learn the naming schemes and product tiers.

And choosing something merely because it “makes sense” seems a really shallow approach to me. But I can’t seem to help but be influenced by it. Maybe I just need to take some time and really dig into the numbers and details, but then of course I run the risk of information overload, and being even less able to make a decision than usual.

So yeah, I don’t know. Right now I’m leaning towards an Intel setup, mostly because that’s what I’m most familiar with. And who knows: maybe familiarity is a valid concern when doing something as potentially complicated as building a computer from scratch. And to be honest, I’m probably not going to learn too much more the deeper I dig, because there is a lot of information out there, and by the time I got through it all I’d have to start over because something new and better will have come along.

I will say it’s comforting to know that there’s plenty of resources online, like Logical Increments, Reddit, and even a build generator to make things nice and easy. And while I don’t want to go with something just because I read it on a list written by someone I don’t know, I have to start somewhere.

The Envy Marches On

The tech envy is really setting in, and I think it might be here to stay. I really wanna build a new computer, but I’m not sure I should.

This is probably one of those things where there’s never really going to be a “good” time to spend that kind of money. Every time I think I can spend the money, something happens. Last month it was my car. This month it was the credit card bills from my pre-new-job shopping spree. Next month, who knows? Maybe it’ll be adoption costs for a dog, or some crazy sale that I just have to jump on. Or student loans. Or car insurance. Or Christmas shopping

There always seems to be something “better” I “should” spend my money on, is what I’m saying.

But I can’t help myself. For better or worse, I’ve started doing research, and coming up with options that may actually be feasible. Nvidia just released a new generation of graphics cards, for one. What does this mean? Well, the previous models are steeply discounted, of course, but even the new models aren’t that pricey (for a mid-to-high card, that is). Suddenly, I’m able to start coalescing around a target budget.

I also ran across this chart on Tom’s Hardware, ranking multiple generations of graphics cards into various performance tiers. Think of it as a Rosetta Stone for the byzantine naming conventions hardware manufacturers use. And for some reason, I thought it was a good idea to spend a good chunk of my free time this past weekend parsing the data and looking for trends (you know, as one does). During the course of this tedious yet compelling work, I came to the realization that the graphics card in my 6-and-a-half-year-old laptop is not nearly the beefy performer I thought it was. In fact, it’s more than halfway down the chart.

I know I should be a responsible adult and pay my bills. But the siren call of new hardware is getting stronger, and I don’t know that I want to be good. But at the same time, I don’t know that I can let myself splurge.