Tuesday, December 21, 2004

First Day With The New Brain

I got me a Dell dude (sorry, i just couldn't resist). Yesterday afternoon i got my new Dell Dimension 4700 and my very first flat-panel monitor. On paper, it's more powerful than the first Cray that i worked on (a Cray XP- no relation to Windows XP): 1Gb of memory, 80 Gb of disk, a P4 at about 3GHz, all in a box about the size of a photo album. Of course, the Cray could still crunch numbers faster, but it's amusing to think back on the huge disk farm we had to support 40Gb of storage.

The good things are the small form factor and the speed. I haven't really worked it out yet, but there are numerous hints that it's pretty darn quick. Firefox is so fast starting up, that i wasn't convinced that it was actually getting loaded from disk and not just swapped in from the background. I also like the flat panel, though the text is not as crisp as i'd like, which seems to be a general problem with flat-panel displays. I think the overall footprint of both the computer and the monitor is still smaller than the footprint of the old monitor. It's got a bunch of USB ports, including a couple on the front. It was way easy to drop it on my network.

The bad: it's noisy. I'm not sure if it has a traditional fan, or one of the disk drive motor fans or what, but when it's quiet in the room it sounds like somebody revving a Harley. When the boys are in the room, it'll be unnoticeable; but late at night it's going to bother me. I'm also getting a strange "Power Surge on Hub Port" message, which seems to be spurious. I did a bit of checking on the web and early indications are that this might be a problem with Windows XP SP2. Since i've only got a keyboard and mouse plugged into the USB ports, i'm reasonably sure that it's not a real power surge. It's also curious that it only occurs when the system has been sleeping for a while, and it goes away after a few minutes. Fortunately, USB warnings can be turned off.

The other major thumbs down is for the DVD/CD-ROM drive. Because i've got the small form factor and i've got it sitting vertically, the drive is also vertical. To get a CD into the drive, you have to support the drive tray with one hand and press the disk onto it. This is going to be a disaster with my boys. I might have to get an external drive just to avoid destroying it. Unfortunately, a lot of game manufacturers require that you have the CD-ROM in the drive to run the game (stupid,stupid,stupid). I'm not too keen on running a drive emulator even though i've got plenty of disk. Yet another example of an idiotic protective measure taken by a software company that primarily inconveniences the paying customer.

My first personal computer 20 years ago had 64Kb of memory and two 360Kb disk drives. The vendor gave us a free box of 10 360Kb floppy disks (5-1/4), and we wondered how we'd ever manage to use them all. That processor's clock was just less than 4 MHz. Oddly enough though, i'm struck more by the similarities than the vast differences. The form of the personal computer has changed very little, and the way that we use it is only different because of the emergence of the Internet. I really thought that by this point in time computing would be a sort of utility that we'd plug our portable display devices into. I suppose it's reaching that point, but there's much work still to be done on simple connectivity, portability of information, and ruggedness of devices.

No comments: