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Sunday, October 19, 2008

I'll cry tonight like I cried the night before

This post is not about how 314 is ruining my life (it's not doing that at all, it's actually going quite well now). This post is about how my desktop PC is ruining my life.

It all started back in mid-September when the old CRT monitor died. We thought it was the computer that was dead, so we took it to Datacom to be fixed. (As should be obvious from this mistake, we all tend to be extraordinarily dim-witted when it comes to maintaining the desktop. Keeping this fact in mind will make what follows less painful.)

Datacom told us the computer was fine, of course, so we took it home and connected it to an older CRT, which worked (for some loose definition of the word "work"). This confirmed the deadness of the big CRT, so we took it to the recycling people and bought a nice new ViewSonic LCD instead.

The LCD turned up with a DVI port, but no DVI cable. Plugged into VGA it didn't look very nice. After some striving we located a DVI cable, but when we took it home that night, the monitor proceeded to not work with any kind of cable. Suspicions aroused, we plugged in the older CRT again, and found that it was also not working.

There was no mistaking this time. We took the computer back to Datacom.

A few days later Datacom called up to tell us our graphics card was fried, so they had removed it. We were very surprised, for several reasons - mostly because we didn't know we had a graphics card. This, I swear, wasn't our fault. We bought the computer off the shelf in an emergency situation in 2004. The spec sheet said it had onboard graphics, and we've never had it open in all that time. Honestly, we had no idea.

So we weren't very stressed about the graphics card being removed, not having realised that we even had one. We told Datacom we'd just go with the onboard graphics. They said fine and we took it home. Not quite at once, though - as our hard drive was getting old, we also got them to put in a new one and clone our data to it. They had the computer anyway, so we figured we may as well ask them to do it at the same time. (Yes, we could probably have done this ourselves. No, it wasn't my idea to get someone else to do it.)

When the computer came home this time - it was last Tuesday - it sat in the hallway for several days. We were busy.

Thursday morning I finally got around to setting it up. It wasn't difficult to work out where all the stray plugs were supposed to go, and I was feeling really quite smart when I ran into a problem with the monitor cable. There it was under the desk, and there was the photo I had taken a week earlier of the back of the computer (so I could remember where all the ports were). In the photo there was a DVI port right underneath the sound-related ports. Under the desk with me, no such thing.

I was confused.

About a minute later, I figured out that the graphics card had been the only thing in the hardware setup that supported DVI, and the graphics card was now gone. No doubt Datacom thought this was such an obvious thing there was no need to tell us about it. But really, people, come on. You're dealing with customers who didn't know they had a graphics card. Don't you think a little spelling-things-out would have been in order?

Being that it was eight in the morning and Datacom wouldn't be on the end of the phone to berate, I got on with the setup. I found the VGA cable. I plugged it in. I braced myself for some bad performance, and hit the power button.

I found the computer's power cable, plugged it in, and hit the power button again.

The computer hummed, then said something like "CPU changed. Please edit the BIOS. Press F1 to continue". This made me blink a bit - Datacom shouldn't have done anything to the CPU, surely? - but after a minute I did the honourable thing and ignored it. Pressed F1. It continued.

Before it got to the Windows loading screen, it restarted.

The second attempt was more successful, it didn't restart again, so again I ignored it. Instead I set about trying to make the whole desktop fit on the screen. This was interesting - the native resolution of the new monitor is 1920 by 1200, but there was no option for 1920 by 1200 in the desktop settings. I could have 1920 by 1400, which made the Start menu disappear off the bottom of the screen, or 1600 by 1200, which made everything readable but greatly elongated. There was just no option that made things look right. Anywhere.

I boggled.

Then I switched it off, thinking I'd look for a new device driver for the graphics later, but not now because I would be late to meet with my awesome new boss. I went away and had a lovely meeting and didn't think about it any more until Saturday.

Saturday, on first boot, the thing started restarting itself again. Repeatedly. In an infinite loop. It would get to a certain point in the boot process, go "GAAARRRGGH", and restart. Then bring up a helpful Norton GoBack message telling us it had restarted because "Norton detected that your system was unstable". Then it'd boot for a while before going "GAAARRRGGH" again and repeating from the top.

What could this be? Is there something wrong with the new hard drive? Is our motherboard really not capable, as rumoured, of supporting anything bigger than 120 GB? Has the first use of the onboard graphics caused major confusion? Has it become self-aware and decided it doesn't like our wallpaper? Should we try the older CRT again? Should we try to rescue some data? Should we try to do a full system scan?

Only one thing, in these uncertain times, is set in stone: Monday it is damn well going back to Datacom.

and then we're buying a Mac
I hopes
I hopes
I hopes


Donald said...

1920x1200 monitors are actually quite hard to drive for older graphics gear, they require a very high data rate. The graphics card in my old PC (circa, er, 2006) couldn't drive *my* shiny new 1920x1200 monitor in DVI mode, I was stuck with analogue until I replaced it with an eeebox (which, by the way, is wonderful. and tiny. and quiet. and cheap).

Ha, just wait for the Mac to break, and then you'll discover the horror that is the Apple Authorized Service Agents in Wellington. From personal experience, and what I've heard from others, they ALL break things when they're "fixing" your computer. Datacom at least seem to be competent.

gliderguider said...

I can point people at non-butcher Mac servicing by a friend who's been doing it since the 80's and works from home these days (mostly doing corporate VAR stuff).

He has to do what I tell him, otherwise I'll cut off his internet :-P

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