Thursday, July 23, 2009

Getting old and square...

VFTP Command Central is getting long in the tooth. If I did any real gaming anymore, I'd upgrade to a new system, but I haven't played a first-person shooter over a network in... five years? So, given that it's just a netbox and is only used to play the occasional old game, I figured I'd keep the machine in play a bit longer with a memory bump.

Impetus to finally get off my duff and do it was provided when the Logitech mouse started crapping out. First the scroll wheel failed to report for duty one morning. Then buttons started mysteriously double-clicking for no apparent reason. A trip to Fry's, the electronics megamart, was in order.

When I got there, I headed for the section dedicated to componentry. For those of you who've never been in a Fry's, it's computer geek nirvana; they have an aisle of nothing but cases and power supplies that's bigger than the whole computer department in most consumer electronics stores.

I suddenly realized, as I approached the neckbeards manning the help desk in front of the Giant Wall Of RAM And Motherboards, that I couldn't remember the memory configuration in my PC. I was pretty sure it was DDR... I think. Was it one half-gig SIMM or two 256 meg sticks...?

"Can I help you?" asked the young neckbeard, politely.

"Ummm... I need to upgrade the memory in my computer..." said the suddenly hesitant and confused sounding older lady while the young technogeek looked on with a mixture of pity and contempt... Jesus, this can't be happening to me. I built my first XT from a bare chassis when this kid was in diapers, for Vishnu's sake! How did I get so out of touch?

I aborted the RAM mission until I could get home and verify the best configuration my MoBo would support and headed to the peripherals section for a new mouse, where I had my second experience with feeling unhip.

Now, bear in mind that when VFTP Command Central was put together in '03, cost was very much not a factor. It was built with the express purpose of being a fairly beefy gaming rig and, for the era, it was. That was how I'd always bought computer hardware: If it was black, had an "X" or "Z" somewhere in the name, and was guaranteed to boost my frame rate or help me frag my friends more efficiently, I was there. Now, I found myself thinking "Huh. 'Razer Lachesis'... That's a pretty cool name for a mouse. 4000dpi? Wow! Nine buttons, too... But, $80 for a mouse to play games? Nahhh..." and bought the $24.99 Logitech because it was cheaper and two buttons are plenty. Besides, I bought that Nostromo game pad back in '03 and I've never even hooked it up.

In the end, I wound up coming back and picking up two 1-gig sticks for my PC. Amazing what quadrupling the RAM has done for its performance. Now I can... uh... process words so much faster, or something. And the new mouse works great, and probably will for another five years.


Tango Juliet said...

All my homebuilts are in the attic. I live happily in the Mac world and am not looking back.

the pawnbroker said...

mmm hmm...soon you'll be going to vintage tech shows where all the old timers will be sitting around in lawn chairs looking at all the highly polished and well built but oh so slow and yesterday 'puter hardware from, like, a decade ago...and as at the car shows i check out, the eldest of the bunch will be going, "why hell, that ain't old...i remember when that thing was brand new and the coolest thing on the (virtual) road; me 'n suzy had so much fun..."

here's a profitable if slightly weird idea, though...throw that old mouse up for bids here or on the flea and pay for the new one and then some easy...


Anonymous said...

You'd get pity and contempt from them no matter how much you know about computers, unless you also have a neckbeard.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I prefer Newegg or even Amazon unless I'm in a crashing hurry for something, like a power supply suddenly going west. As a techie, I sincerely hate dealing in person with techies. And I go to Fry with great reluctance, only because CompUSA is gone and I hate Best Buy.

I suspect my full, luxurious beard is why I can't ever seem to get helped at Fry. I guess they're intimidated by my full frontal beardity. Or maybe I have "angry techie" tattooed in invisible ink on my forehead and it starts to pulse in red as my blood pressure climbs as I'm being ignored.

(OT, I trimmed my nice fluffy beard the other day, after the blogmeet. My wife said, "Yeah, you were starting to look like Hagar the Horrible." I get no respect.)

Crustyrusty said...

Hell, we were programming COBOL on big iron back when those kids' PARENTS were babies....

No neckbeard here, though. I got the angry bald head/goatee thing going on.

It works.

Borepatch said...

I find it very odd indeed to find my old techno-geek interest just about completely gravitated from me to #1 Son.

He just installed OS X on the eeePC. Ten years ago,I would have been the one doing it, now I'm busy doing other stuff and would never get around to it.

Chrystoph said...

Don't feel bad, Tam. I am a "professional" and I can't keep up with the industry. You get stuck in time when you aren't always buying the latest and greatest.

My Alpha Geek can recite, and debate, with himself, all the latest hardware, but I no longer find it interesting. When I need to know something, I look it up. Otherwise, there are a great many more interesting useless things to fill my mind with these days.

If you want a shooter, I recommend Battlefield: Heroes. It is cartoony and cannot be taken seriously. After all, *grin* who ever heard of an anti-tank rocket being more effective than the tank gun that it is fighting?

TD said...

My old dual G5 is still going strong (it'll be six years old in a few months) and does everything I need. I'm only contemplating a replacement because it throws off a LOT of waste heat and makes my room pretty unpleasant during the summer months.

Turk Turon said...

Been there, Sistah! You did good.

Seems like every time I go in search of more RAM, there's a problem: the BIOS won't support RAM over my current total, and the motherboard won't accept upgraded BIOS. So now it looks like I need a new MB. Can I use my old RAM sticks? Not on your life! New RAM must be had. I'll have to get a new processor, of course, but the new MB requires a new generation of power supply and the new PS requires a new kind of case, etc.

So I go in for some memory sticks and I come out with a bare bones system.

I use Ubuntu Linux when I can, but did I read Borepatch's comment right? His son installed OS X on an eeePC? Very cool!

Canthros said...

I'm in pretty much the same boat as Chrystoph. I just can't be bothered to keep up with the continuously changing BS that is computer hardware.

I was actually in Fry's a couple years back (2007, I guess) buying components for a new computer, but I had to call a friend to get the video cards sorted out. I was replacing a machine built in 2002, IIRC. (I hit a Fry's two hours away from home because I was in the area anyway and it was a better option than most of the places local to me. I only sort of miss CompUSA.)

Brad K. said...

I had to laugh at the "two buttons is enough".

I ran into the double clicking problem with my Microsoft Optical Trackball. That I picked up more years ago than I remember - '01, when I got the HP Pavillion? '03? Maybe '04.

A year or so after I got the trackball the cursor started hanging. I eventually figured that I can pop out the ball, wipe it with a Kleenex or variant then wad the Kleenex and swap out (dry) the "socket" for the ball. Every week or three keeps the thing working great. Staples, where I bought the trackball, told me that I never have to clean the thing. I guess they just like selling them.

What I got used to was the trackball has two side buttons. I programmed the off-side button to "undo". Wow, is that ever great. Undo a paste or inadvertent cut with a twitch of the finger? Immensely relieving, for undoing mistakes.

Except Staples doesn't carry it anymore, and they seem to be $25 or more higher in price than what I paid. *sigh*

I took my first Fortran class in 1971, using mark-sense IBM cards. They didn't have enough keypunch machines for everyone, so we got cards with half as many columns (40), and used a #2 pencil to fill in the double-line boxes where the holes should be. Then join the same line to submit your deck of cards for the line for the card reader, and wait for someone to break out the listings off the line printer. Correct typos and logic errors, and try again.

COBOL was the Bee's Knees for business, and still was with the CICS terminals used for database transactions. In 1991 we used both COBOL and PL/I with CICS for one contract.

Remember the Thinking Machinges computer from Jurassic Park, the tall case with the strip of blinking red lights in the middle? I got to use Fortran on a CM-5e like it. It turns out the red lights are driven by a separate microprocessor running a program that Thinking Machines called "random and pleasing". Though they could use it for running memory and system diagnostics, that didn't seem to impress visitors and buyers as much.

Today if you want to progam on the cheap, there is Perl and Python available from COBOL, COmon Business Oriented Language (invented by the Navy's Adm. Grace Hopper) is still alive, and still used for business applications. It still has the reputation for being tough to get it to do anything, but much more likely than other languages to get it right. I remember having to implement my own random number generator for a numerical methods class - and no, the instructor was *not* prepared for a statistical assignment in each of COBOL, PL/I, Fortran and BASIC. I had too much time on my hands.

Shane said...

I remember when Fry's was a local food market, back when we were looking forward to the next lunar landing.

Rabbit said...

I've got you beat. There are 4 Fry's within 30 miles of me, one within 1 mile. Micro Center is a whopping 4 miles away, for those times when I get pissed off with Frys and want to get stuff that works the first time, every time. Sometimes I go by Frys at lunch, just to mess with the hired help- "Got any monodirectional fibre cable? Can you call the other stores and find out if they do"?

Oh, and the legendary Tanner's Electronics is just up the block from the office. That's geek Nirvana.

Every once in awhile, I do run across deals at Frys, but in the past I've had as high as a 30% failure/defect rate on hardware from them.


Anonymous said...

These days one can get a GB of RAM for the price of a good burger & frys. Most of the commenters probably remember when RAM was $40+ for a MB and it came in DIP chips. Or how about a 330MB SCSI hard disk that weighed more than the rest of the computer.

I just bought my grandkid an Acer netbook for $200 that has more power than a building full of IBM 360 hardware that we used in college.

Where does it end - implanted computers with thought input?


Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I can absolutely relate to what Chrystoph and John are saying.

In our computer room, most of our production machines are Compaq DL3x0 machines in the G1 configuration. We're slowly replacing them with G2s and G3s and even the occasional G4 -- all purchased off eBay for pennies on the dollar. But our operation doesn't need the latest and greatest to be able to do the job.

And most of our desktops are two or three years old by now, I imagine. One exception is mine, because we recently upgraded it from "telecommuter box" to "developer telecommuter box" and put compilers and stuff on it. I think before it had a single core AMD and maybe 1GB RAM. It now has a dual-core Intel and 3GB RAM.

The machine I normally use day-to-day at home, though, is the same one I've used for probably about five years, and it's close to retirement. (It's only got a single-core CPU, for God's sake! But it does have 2GB RAM.)

Kristophr said...

I don't bother trying to upgrade anymore.

If my current PC is too slow for whatever game I want to play, I'll just have Frys or the local PC shop put together a new MB, CPU, and memory that I can afford, and have them show me that it will post.

Then I go home and swap it into my case.

NotClauswitz said...

Fry's wasn't always like that, at one time in the Pleistocene, before it was a mondo chain of Floptronics and Appliances, before the freakin' XT and before Steve and Woz bought their first diet Cokes and circuit boards, was it was a very funky little back street elctro-gizmo hardware place in Palo Alto where you could buy all kinds of crap, from soldering irons and Heathkit projects to tropical fish tanks and balsa model airplanes. You think *YOU* feel old...

Turk Turon said...

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak used to shop for computer parts at Halted Specialties in Santa Clara, CA. They offered the owner, Hal Elzig, stock in their new company if he would extend them some credit. He turned them down."Coupla scruffy looking hippies in a VW Bus," he said.

Brad K. said...


As I recall, the Fry's in CA - Santa Clara, wasn't it? - was not related to the Fry's food stores.

And you dared ask only two questions - Is it in stock? What does it cost? They had such high turnover in sales people, and such poor training, that if someone *did* understand your question, they usually made up the answer. What they had was price and selection - back when you went in looking for a particular IC, resistor, coil, transformer, plug, etc. It was a breadboarding and component dream place like RadioShack never hoped to be. The computer components, computers, and software were second thought add-ons, "maybe someone will want one". I think they put more planning into selling sodas and snacks (food basics for Silicon Valley!) than the computers.

Assrot said...

I wish you'd mention what parts you need on your blog before you waste your money.

I have a 3'x8'x8' closet packed from floor to ceiling with old parts. Everything I have still works. It's mostly stuff that was pulled for upgrades to my computers or my friends and family members. (Yes, I'm a pack rat.)

I know I have a couple of wireless keyboards and mouses (mice?) in there as well as several sticks of 256MB DIMMS, SIMMS, etc.

I'd have sent you the memory for free if I had what you needed.


NattyBumpo said...

Ahhhh, I refer to the kids that work at my local Fry's as the "bus-stop gang". As in, what the hell bus stop did they hire you from this morning.

There are about three or four guys that work there that know who I am and get stuff for me. If you have them generate a quote, they get a VERY small percentage of the total. The nice thing with always doing that is, that when I am in a hurry and don't have the two hours to check out, because the phone line between here and CA is busy, I can flag down one of them and have them go fetch my order for me, and then I just meet them at the printer to collect the quote. Speeds things right up.

Also, in OR at least, the Attorney General's office says that it is illegal for them to check your receipt. It is akin to them accusing you of shoplifting without you leaving the store. This causes them all sorts of issues, when I tell them that they don't need to see my papers.

Anonymous said...

I can relate: I put together a shopping list for a new box for Oleg, and I had to re-edumacate myself since I seem to have lost contact with PC components since about the socket 939 era. Hmm.

Also, FYI, it is not a neck beard.


Shane said...

Fry's Electronics probably wouldn't exist if it weren't for Fry's Markets. The original Fry's was a small chain of grocery stores owned by Charles Fry. He sold out in 1972 and split the proceeds among his sons. They went out and started Fry's Electronics.

Anonymous said...

Heh, I still giggle at the thought that I have multiple processors and gigabytes of RAM on my _Portable_.

Mind you, I have to use it as a dumb remote terminal to access servers with 8-24 processors and many 10's of GB of RAM...and a 32GB HDD. snrk.

Seriously, I had a machine the other day with (much) more RAM than HDD capacity. Until the System guys looked at and slammed a 250GB HDD on it "just because". I tried to argue it was connected by a gigabit network to a terrifying RAID Array, but who listens to me.

"hardware is cheap"

Ian Argent said...

I still am hanging on to my "gamer" title by skin of teeth. And my machine wasn't cutting it. Poked around a bit and decided that paying Alienware $300 over parts cost at Newegg was a good tradeoff given that I have a time shortage (and not a money shortage) and didn't want to spend a weekend with screwdriver and install disk.

(I've mostly given up on shooters, though. The RTS games I prefer have gotten pretty hefty as far as graphics go though).

Anonymous said...

just upgraded my pc after many years had an 800mhz athlon w/ 512 ram

now i have a core i7 (4 cpu with 4 threads) and 12 gig of ram

like going from a yugo to Mclaren F1

leBolide said...

Hooray for planned-obsolescence upgrades!

I've developed a system of upgrading my PC about ever 4 years or so, about when I have to replace everything except the hard drive, with whatever was top-o-the-line about a year and a half ago. By the time I get it, it's 1/4 - 1/2 the new price, but is still plenty fast for my needs.

Now I have a quad core with 4 Gig of RAM, and I just need Win7 to get cheap so I can use it all.

BTW, if your gaming interests ever venture into the realm of an MMO, give City of Heroes a try. It's fun for a casual gamer.