Back online at last, after nearly a fortnight of almost total cyber silence since the death of my master PC. It had shown occasional symptoms of age and general rot for a while and a power cut in the middle of the night finally did for it, but after many attempts I did manage to boot it up one last time and frantically copy some recent work over the LAN to the slave PC. It expired peacefully in its sleep the following night and no response at all was forthcoming. It’s incredibly useful to have two PCs, especially when building a new replacement for one of them: any esoteric problems in the build can be researched on the internet using the other, and I still have email.
I was already thinking of building a new master PC later this year using more recent technology, so this merely advanced the plan. The first stage was research - and plenty of it - for two solid days: getting up to speed on the latest combinations for the big three (motherboard / CPU / RAM) and scanning the many hardware websites for any common problems and compatibility issues or other developments. I’m not into gaming so it didn’t need to be an expensive blistering fast setup, and I specified a fast P35 based system that added up to a quite modest price (detailed specs below for interested techies).
The case is simply beautiful, in a technical sort of way: an Antec Sonata III. Finished in piano black with front mounted USB and eSata ports and blue system lights, its looks are matched all the way by its ergonomics: the 3½” drive trays slide out at the side to ease assembly and have silicone dampers for mounting the drives, which together with the excellent fan make the system operation whisper quiet, much more peaceful than the old jet-engine box I had before and it runs cooler with less power too.
The most interesting and relevant upgrade was the monitor: a 20″ NEC LCD20WGX2 Pro. This was another area that needed almost as much research as the computer system, with some manufacturers even using different panels for different batches of the same model. I’ve been using a 17″ TN (Twisted Nematic + Film) monitor from the time when they first became affordable, but in those days, although they were fine for general computing tasks, they weren’t nearly as good as a high quality CRT for processing images with Photoshop, which is my main usage for backpacking photos. The TN panel technology became widespread due to its relative cheapness, and also fast response times that were important for gamers, but it was a real pain for image work: if I moved my head even slightly up or down, the subjective brightness of the whole image would shift considerably, commonly known as the viewing-angle problem.
For image work the panel technologies of choice are S-IPS (Super In Plane Switching) or MVA/PVA (Vertical Alignment), which are more expensive per inch of screen and much less common but eliminate the viewing angle problem with angles quoted at 178 degrees. When the NEC monitor burst into life the difference was jaw dropping - and it wasn’t just the angles. The clarity and brightness from a range of angles was immediately obvious, and looking at one of our trip reports, the photos had great colour depth and clarity. I fact I used the control panel slider of the graphics card software to drop the brightness a bit from its default setting. The text fonts were thin and spidery at first which reminded me to switch on ClearType, one of those indispensable settings that so few people seem to know about, which aliased the fonts and rounded off a superb display.
For a wealth of information on flat panel technologies and choices visit TFT Central.
New component specs:-
Motherboard: DFI DK P35 T2RS
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 3GHz Wolfdale 45nm
RAM: 3Gb Corsair DDR2 800MHz
Monitor: 20″ NEC LCD20WGX2 Pro
Graphics card: OCUK GeForce 8600GT
Hard drives: SATA Seagate Barracudas 160Gb + 500Gb
DVD burner: Pioneer DVR215