I’ve been thinking about upgrading my main desktop machine for a while, and two things finally pushed me over the edge and levered the requisite cash out of my wallet (or rather, my long-suffering credit card) to do it; getting a new MacBook Pro, which was making my main machine feel decidedly sluggish when doing major builds, and the release of Bioshock.
Motherboard & CPU
The last time I upgraded my main machine was about 18 months ago, just before dual-core became really mainstream, and as sods law dictates even though I bought a motherboard which supposedly could handle the new chips, Intel of course changed them again and it couldn’t take the new Core 2 Duos - so once again, it was motherboard upgrade time. It’s always a nervous experience, gutting your entire machine and leaving its entrails strewn across the carpet, and even more so now I don’t do it as often as I once did, but there was no other option. Having had some bad experiences with nForce4 last time around, from flaky drivers to SATA drive instability, this time I returned to the comfortable fold of an Intel chipset, namely the relatively new P35. I chose a mid-class Gigabyte board because it was fairly priced and seemed well-built, and I don’t overclock anymore (no time) so I didn’t need the more extreme stuff - particularly SLI or Crossfire (I’ve never been able to justify buying 2 expensive graphics cards). It claims to be able to support any future socket 478 chip, via if necessary a BIOS flash, but we’ll see whether that actually pans out. It also supports DDR3, although for the moment the jury is out on that one, so I’m using 2Gb of regular DDR2. Chip-wise I went for the Core 2 Duo E6750 (2.66Mhz), which at the moment is the ‘sweet spot’ - ie the next lower model is not that much cheaper, but the next model higher is a fair jump. Quad-core might have been nice, but hey, I’m not made of money 😉
** I stayed with nVidia again - pretty much a no-brainer these days considering that ATI seem to have lost their hunger at the top-end now anyway, but in any case I’ve always just had better experiences with them, especially when you count GL support. Not that I’d steer clear of ATI - I always have at least one machine in the house running one for testing purposes, but on my own desktop my preference remains nvidia. This time I plumped for an 8800 GTS 320Mb - a nice poky card (OGRE tests show it to be about double the speed of my 6800 GS) for a reasonable price. The extra 30% premium for the 640Mb version wasn’t worth it, especially since my max resolution is 1680×1050, and the 768Mb GTX might have been nice, but I’m afraid 300 quid is more than I’m willing to pay for a single component (my entire upgrade cost me around 400).
One thing I didn’t expect: I bought a BFG branded card because for an extra tenner it had a lifetime warranty and came pre-overclocked by 10%, but they also bundle you a black BFG T-shirt with the card. It’s a little tacky unless you’re attending a LAN party but hey, who can complain - it’s decent quality cotton and covers my man-boobs, what more can you ask?
Windows XP Configuration & Activation
During previous mobo changes I’ve ended up reinstalling XP from scratch to avoid the horrible BSODs that result from changing underlying chipsets, but I’m rather busy and didn’t fancy doing that if I could avoid it. I followed these TechNet instructions and lo and behold, they worked, so I have my complete setup back much faster than I would have done if I’d gone for a clean reinstall. Of course I lose the benefits of having cleaned all the crap out of my OS install too, but you makes your choices.
I was also a little anxious about Windows Product Activation (WPA) because I’d seen lots of conflicting reports about the status of OEM licenses (which I have) under major hardware changes. My OEM version was self-purchased so isn’t locked to a vendor key like the ones you get from Dell or Gateway etc, but all the same information on the net was fairly contradictory. In the end I thought I would just suck it and see - as expected I had to reactivate and whilst the automatic online reactivation failed, a phone call to Microsoft’s toll-free (and completely automated) touch-tone activation service provided me with a new key and it reactivated just fine. Rather tedious keying in a 48-digit ID into your phone and then listening to another one back, but 10 minutes and it was done. So it appears that the forum reports from independent system builders were correct; provided you don’t change your hardware too often - and I’m not sure what the threshold is, but allegedly if you change hardware more than 3 or 4 times a year you might hit a watershed and have to explain to a real person what you’re doing - even (vendor-free) OEM versions of XP will reactivate fairly easily. Makes you wonder then why anyone would buy a non-OEM version, except perhaps for the product support which you get none of with the OEM version.
** So, it took all of yesterday evening and a little of this morning, but the results are looking promising (touch wood). OGRE runs faster, I should be able to play Bioshock tonight, and my batch builds fly, at least once I’ve gotten past OgreMain so that all the other projects can fire off in parallel. Bonza!
- no prizes for guessing the Spaceballs reference