Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My Next IT Purchase: 12 Gauge Shotgun

I am familiar with Winboxes, having used them extensively during my previous lives that involved software engineering. However, at home, perhaps due to that familiarity, we have Macs.

Recently, though, the man child has been lobbying for a computer of his own. He loves internet strategy games, and since there are vanishingly few games available for the Mac, that means letting a Winbox into the house. On the upside, he would be able to download whatever games he wanted and I wouldn't have to worry about the rest of the machines getting trashed; and, as he has shown some proclivity for things computer, it would be the perfect platform for teaching him Visual BASIC.

Consequently, I took advantage of the Comp USA fire sale to pick up an HP Pavilion 6200. Decent specs, with upgrade capacity. Came pre-loaded with Vista. The salesperson assured me that was no barrier to gaming.

As !@#$%^& if.

The man child was duly thrilled when he discovered his new computer on Christmas day.

He was far less thrilled when Oblivion wouldn't load. In roughly three seconds, I concluded the saleshoser was either lying, or ignorant. Either way, he was lying. It took rather more time to conclude there are no Vista drivers to be had for the game.

Meaning: buy XP and install it.

Having to buy an operating system immediately after buying a new computer with an operating system is strongly correlated, at least for me, with waves of hypertension.

After wiping the blood from the corners of my eyes, I clicked on "Add to my Cart" and plunked down $140 on XP Pro SP2. Several days later, it hit our front door.

Since his computer has a largish hard drive, I figured to create a dual boot configuration, and spent a couple hours researching how to make that happen.

Before starting, I was careful to make a system recovery disk. You know, just in case, in the highly off-chance, one in a whole bunch kind of thing, something might not go completely, absolutely, right.

At first, things went according to plan. Right up to the moment when XP tried to boot, whereupon the whole process turned hard left and dove straight into a ditch. OK. No problemo, we will just insert the system recovery disk. go to square one, and try again.

As !@#$%^& if.

Now we are in something of a pickle. For reasons known only to HP and Microsoft, and having heck-all to do with customer satisfaction, the computer does not come with Vista on a CD-ROM. Thus, if the system restore disk won't, there is no way to boot from the CD drive and, if necessary, re-format the hard disk and reinstall.

Nor will XP boot from the CD drive.

The only thing left is to take the computer, which I am beginning to regard with real, visceral, loathing, to the local computer fixer.

HP Pavilion a6220n computer, $600.

XP Pro, $140

Get the computer running again: $120.

Pleasure from seeing my son finally getting to use his Christmas present: Who the hell knows?

As it turns out, there is no putting XP on this !@#$%^&*! computer, since HP doesn't provide XP drivers for it.

Lucky for me, WalMart is a few miles a way, rather than next door. For if it was, I would have not walked, but run, there for a shotgun to blast the thing to pieces so I could spit on the wreckage.

The place where I took the computer sells used machines; all of which are less expensive than what I got, and a couple looked clearly superior in every way except mass storage. So I wondered if the guy would make me an offer on the HP, and I would pick up one of his offerings.

Well, no. He won't touch a Vista machine with the mucky end of a barge pole. I can understand why. It takes a small epoch, and a fair amount of control panel fiddling about, to establish an internet connection, every time. Windows Explorer crashes -- no exaggeration for rhetorical effect -- roughly every third time it runs. Right out of the box.

So, absent some clues (hello, AOG? Mike?), I am left with trying to unload a virtually brand new computer and an uninstalled XP, while buying yet another computer.

More waves of hypertension.

Perhaps I should get an eye bolt, 70 feet of chain, and a buoy. Tossing that piece of Winbox crap into a lake to use as a boat anchor won't be as emotionally satisfying as littering the landscape with its guts. But it will be a lot cheaper, and by the time this is all said and done, that may be all I can afford.

Oddly, setting up a Mac to dual boot Windows Nameit is a doddle.

Perhaps more oddly, Microsoft is still peddling Vista. It has been on the market a year. Yesterday, I saw this illuminating, but for my purposes very tardy, teaser on the cover of a Winbox oriented magazine:
23 Tweaks to Make Vista Tolerable

Vista: a new way to say POS in polite company. EG, "My last car was a Vista."


Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Personally, I buy from Shuttle Computers these days. What's amusing (not to you) is that about a year ago, they sold machines with Vista but if you asked nice, you could still get XP. Now, XP is the default and you have to pay extra for Vista.

I have also never liked HP machines, which my previous corporate employer had standard. That dislike started many moon ago, when I had an HP machine, purchased from HP, and an HP printer, which wouldn't work together because HP didn't provide printer drivers for the Dark Empire OS they shipped on their computer! HP's official recommendation was to buy the driver from a third party software house.

And, oh yeah, Vista blow chunks for PC gaming. It's not you.

Clues, though — the boot problem is probably a BIOS setting. Almost all BIOS these days lets you set the boot order (e.g., CD, then HD, then floppy, or whatever). I'd check that first. I suspect you can probably get XP drivers, though, because HP almost certainly uses third party devices (for instance, the graphics card is unlikely to be HP manufactured). However, I can't be much more help because, as noted, I actively avoid HP computers. I wouldn't buy it either. You best bet would be to try and find some small local software companies / start ups who are willing to buy it for automation (builds, testing).

January 08, 2008 2:45 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


The boot problem is organic -- we can get the computer to try and boot from the CD ROM drive, but since HP didn't see fit to include an OS disk, the system restore disk is more useless than a parachute for fishing, and XP won't boot, then we are dead in the water.

Hence my fury.

We have an HP all-in-one printer, which has performed brilliantly, and received complimentary reviews. Also, I have an HP calculator that, despite being 23 years old, is still the best calculator I have ever had.

Hence my willingness, never to be repeated, to buy HP.

The computer doesn't have a separate video card. Any clues as to how to find and download the other drivers I might need?

A friend of mine (who, BTW, reminds me of you in many respects), suggested building a computer. Do you have any recommendations? I'd like to keep it around $600 to start, excluding monitor and keyboard. We separately bought a 20" HP monitor that supports both digital and analog inputs.

January 08, 2008 4:49 PM  
Blogger Mike Beversluis said...

My condolences. That really sucks. Sorry I can't offer any good ideas on how to fix the lemon.

FWIW, I've bought a lot of Dell's at work with no troubles - all with XP mandatory. We went for their second tier business line (OptiPlex) because it was less bleeding edge than the Dimensions or XPS systems, and hence more reliable. Not sure how that would work out for gaming, but my guess would be fair to not so great.

January 08, 2008 7:05 PM  
Blogger Ali said...

Meh. Buy an XBox, Skipper.

January 09, 2008 3:13 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I tried building a computer about four years ago. You don't really save much, if anything, and you take all the risks of getting the parts to work together. I sunk $400 or so into the effort and have a nice boat anchor to show for it.

Another problem with buying a big box computer for gaming is the graphics equipment. If the computer has on-board graphics, then you probably won't be able to upgrade to a better graphics card. I found that out with my Compaq Presario. I couldn't run the latest release of Command & Conquer.

I think in the long run the cheapest way to go is to buy a cheap computer for computing, and a game box for gaming.

January 09, 2008 5:11 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

The recovery disks should have the OS, just not in obvious form. Frequently they contain an image of the freshly loaded machine and just write that. That provides an OS for the machine without making it generically loadable (a feature from HP's & the Dark Empire's POV). What stops you from running the recovery disks?

What's the failure mode for booting XP? I have never run in to a computer that could boot from CD but couldn't boot the XP CD.

If you want to custom build, you might check out Game PC. That's where I got my gaming rigs back in the day when I had time to play. Be warned, they tend to supply high end game boys.

You're going to have a tough time with a $600 budget to get something that can play current or recent games. SWIPIAW likes e-Machines, but she load Linux on them, although I think she has one or two that dual boot Linux and Vista.

The last time I bought a system for less than $2K was a one time deal where the manufacturer was dumping pre-builts.

January 09, 2008 7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really understand what ya'll are going on about, but I second Ali anyway. Every computer problem, memory shortage, slowdown, crash, freeze, etc. we've ever had through four or five computers was attributable to games or music files. Otherwise they were as simple and dependable as toasters.

January 09, 2008 9:43 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


This is what Newegg.com comes up with for $670:

1) APEVIA X-ALIEN MX-ALIEN-BK/500 Black Steel ATX Full Tower Computer Case ATX 500W Dual Fan W/ Automatic Fan Speed Control. Power Supply

2) CORSAIR XMS2 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory

3) Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 Conroe 2.33GHz 4M shared L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor

4) ASUS P5N-E SLI LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 650i SLI ATX Intel Motherboard

5) Western Digital Caviar RE WD1600YS 160GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive


7) ASUS EN8600GTS/HTDP/256M GeForce 8600GTS 256MB 128-bit GDDR3 PCI Express x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card

Well, OK. Shipping not included.


That is why I want to get the man child his own computer: so the rest of our computers will continue to be rock-solid reliable.

I for one (and maybe only one) seem immune to the attractions of PC/Video gaming.


Good idea, but I'm hoping to use the PC to teach my son Visual BASIC.

Also, my son prefers internet strategy games. Apparently, that isn't the XBox's forte.

January 09, 2008 8:15 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...


That looks decent. As noted, I haven't shopped in those waters for a long time. I got two nice ones for the boys for $800 each 18 months ago, which were surplus from the World Cyber Games 2006. (Girl Three has to make do with a Dell computer that's older than she is).

You might consider Perl/TK instead of VisualBASIC as a starting language. It's what I hope to teach my Boy One.


Strategy games are really just not as good on a console. The keyboard and mouse are enormously better for such games.

January 10, 2008 4:36 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Sounds like the truism of the mechanic or carpenter shop -- combo tools aren't as efficient as a set of tools fitted each to its task.

January 11, 2008 2:21 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Why Perl/TK instead of Visual BASIC?

January 12, 2008 5:13 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

1) I think Perl is a much better language than VisualBASIC. It's also an excellent gateway language to LISP, PHP, and JavaScript. You can do normal programming, but you can also do some very meta stuff. Far more of the set of general computer science theory is directly accessible.

2) You can do Perl/TK development with all free tools from ActiveState.

3) Perl/TK runs on Linux.

4) The graphical API model is a cleaner, more general design.

January 12, 2008 7:23 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Okay, I'm convinced. Perl/TK it is.

January 12, 2008 7:34 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

And once he's a Perl wizard, you can switch to MovableType and he can do maintenance on it!

January 13, 2008 4:46 AM  

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