Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On the perishability of geek skills...

Once upon a time, I considered myself to be a fairly capable computer geek. I modified my own machines to make them better gaming rigs. I set them up for friends and relatives. When we'd have weekend-long LAN parties, I was the one who got all the machines talking to each other and was responsible for little chores like downloading patches so as to make sure that everybody was running the same version of whatever game we were playing and had the same mods and hacks loaded.

Then I moved to Tennessee and my new roommate was an actual working IT dude. It got easy to just say "Hey, it's acting wonky; can you fix it?" When I moved into my own place, the LAN parties had stopped, and I didn't really play games all that much myself. It's got to the point that I haven't cracked the case on a PC and installed a card in about four years.

Worse, there are some really cool-looking games out there now, and my P4 2.2 ain't quite the racehorse it used to be, and I'm completely lost when it comes to upgrades anymore. I used to actually read the gaming magazines and stay on top of what was cool. Now I know that my GeForce 4 Mx440 is old and busted, and I haven't even got a clue what the new hotness is. I feel like an auto mechanic who knows how to set points and synchronize SU carburettors; that's about how useful being able to write a good autoexec.bat file or set up a 10BASE2 network is these days. Four years of not paying attention, and I might as well have dropped out of computing back in the days of the Mattel Aquarius...

22 comments:

GreatBlueWhale said...

Don't despair, you're still a Cool Nerd Queen. :^)

The new hotness costs too much, anyway.

BobG said...

I know the feeling; I haven't tweaked a DOS machine in ages...

Marko said...

Welcome to the current state of PC gaming: AGP cards are now on the way out. The new standard is called PCI Express. AGP cards are still out there, but more expensive than comparable PCI-E cards.

Short of a complete mainboard swap and all-new guts (figure five bills or so), a facelift for your system ought to include upgrading the RAM (2GB run just north of $100 these days), and swapping out the GeForce 4 MX440 with the fastest thing you can cram into an AGP slot...either a GeForce 7800GS (that's what I use), or a Radeon 1950-series. Both run about $150 online. If you feel liek splurging, you could have the 2.4GHz P4 pulled and replaced by a 3GHz P4HT, which is about the fastest thing still available for that socket. All in all, you'd be out $300-ish for a makeover.

Or, you could drop about five or six bills on a stack of new parts and a barebones kit from TigerDirect, and bribe your friendly neighborhood IT geek into cobbling it together. It'd be a decent trailing-edge system that'll beat the pants off anything from Dell short of a $3K XPS gaming rig.

triticale said...

I decoded the expansion port on the Mattel Aquarius, and wired up a card which let me run Sinclair memory expansion packs on it.

I also fiddled with SUs a bit, but never actually got them in synch.

TD said...

Sounds like a good time to start learning Linux :-)

Anonymous said...

I had the same problem a few months ago when I upgraded my aging Dual PIII.

If it makes you feel any better, once you have the geek mindset, it is not hard to get current with the state of the art. I mean, you learned it all once before, and the lingo has not evolved that much, so go do some reading and in a week you'll know enough to build a new PC from scratch again.

Rabbit said...

Feh. Topwaters.

Tomorrow I've got a refresher course on virtualization and the next generation of Big Blue Iron, which is almost exclusively virtual i/o, ethernet, and disks.

It's been a long, strange trip from that ZX81.

Regards,
Rabbit.

B&N said...

Tamara dear, synching SU carbs, or dual four barrels even, is an art, and setting points is something that the ricer boys couldn't do with all their laptops put together, since it requires an actual screwdriver and some patience.

Switching to EFI for me and diagnostics was a breeze.

Break out the scaler and knock off the rust. It'll all come back to you, as you still have the basics down. It's a short hill climb up that learning curve you're describing.

I think you'll even have some fun doing it. Good luck.

Stingray said...

As a bit of follow-up to Marko's excellent rundown, a few more points:

First, don't worry about DirectX 10 compatibility for now. So far, it's been that people can't tell a difference in a screen-to-screen test between a good card running DX9 and the same in DX10. Also, vista is so horribly broken that framerates in DX10 on vista are non-trivially lower than on XP with DX9.

For the AGP vs. PCI-E thing, one bit he didn't mention was the availibility of SLI and CrossFire on newer mobos. *Personally*, I don't think either of these methods of tying two graphics cards together for the video equivilent of old-school SMP is worth the extra coin. Given that a GeForce 8800 Ultra (current top of the dogpile) rings in around $600, doubling that for dubious framerate gains in most cases just doesn't make sense for me. Also, ATI has officially thrown in the towel on high-end stuff and is focusing on mid and low range cards. Nvidia is king of the hill for sheer pay-through-the-nose bleeding-edge speed.

It sounds like Marko's got you pretty well covered, but if you'd like a second opinion or further discussion or whatnot, feel free to ping me. Specing out (and building) new machines from desktops to workstations to servers is in my job description, and I don't mind helping out the cool kids on my own time.

And B&N is right... carbs and points (or vampire taps and sys.ini) are much cooler geek cred than "Ok, plug it in. Done."

Jeffro said...

No one does slobberjet carbs any more either.

dr mac said...

In twenty years the "geeks" of the day will only be able to read these comments if they have a historical perpective.

On the other hand, most here will not have a clue as to what the "geeks" are talking about in twenty years.

I have found it doesn't matter much. I just pay someone to set up my home entertaiment system instead of doing it myself.

Don Meaker said...

I resemble that remark. I used to program in COBOL, FORTRAN, Ada, and Assembler.

IBM 360 WATFIVE and Control Data veteran.

Stingray said...

Almost forgot something. If you go to slap in a new video card, even if you stick with AGP, double check your power supply. Current crop video cards draw way more juice than the cards that were hot in the time of the Geforce 4 series, and take a new six-pin connector to do it. A GeForce 8800 pulls a full 175 watts, according to Nvidia, and if memory serves, four years ago 350W was a pretty big power supply. Even the cards in the 7800 range Marko suggested draw a hell of a lot of power.

rickn8or said...

Heinlein was right; bad habits and other vices have to be maintained.

You don't expect to be a chain-smoker, sleep for 40 years, and pick it right back up , again do you??

(Sigh. "The Door Into Summer."

Marko and stingray seem to be speaking Engish, of a sorts.

rickn8or said...

Damn bifocals.

Blue-pencil my last yourselves.

al said...

Tigerdirect isn't bad but in my experience newegg.com is less expensive and has a better selection.

If you can set points you can build a PC - it's not that hard.

Also - real geeks used 10Base5

Anonymous said...

Tam, I have absolutely no doubt you have the background and the mental tools. If you have the desire, all that remains is for you to obtain current knowledge. One of the best sources I've found to get info on consumer computer state-of-the-art is ExtremeTech - http://www.extremetech.com/. Embrace and love your geek skills and they will grow and bloom once again!

;)

JT

DirtCrashr said...

I haven't coded anything in GRASP in over fifteen years...

Anonymous said...

The techs at my place of business used to be evenly split by platform, and the Mac vs Windows vs Linux arguments could be heated. I was walking through their area during one of these and I was asked my opinion.
"I grew up on mainframes" says I. "If it ain't water-cooled, it ain't a real computer."
That kind of put a damper on the rhetoric. This was before watercooled desktop machines, obviously.

Old Grouch said...

FWIW:
Coding Horror builds a pc: 1 2 3 4

It's described as "ridiculously fast, but with an ideal price/performance ratio" (YMMV) -- They're talking $1900 parts.

Also FWIW:
Fortran IV on IBM 1130 ... with punch cards. (do I win?)

Hale Adams said...

How about being comfortable with vacuum tubes, and being mystified (well, somewhat) by transistors?

That's what I get for playing with electronic devices that are older than I am.

If Hewlett-Packard is the Cadillac of electronic test equipment, then General Radio is Packard: a defunct maker of first-class stuff.

General Radio rules!

OK, so I'm a geek. I think I'm in good company here..... :)

Don Meaker said...

And all those MAD L33T punch card ski11z aren't much in demand either. Haven't seen a Honeywell 4000 or an IBM 350 in a while either. And don't even think about my mad COBOL ski11z.