September 9, 2017
I’ve finally replacing the 2009 desktop computer in my home office, which was my 9th home computer system since 1980. The old thing still has plenty of life in it, but it can’t run Windows 10, and I’m ready to move on. I had extended the life of my old system by replacing its spinning hard drives with speedy solid state drives. But my old system is not compatible with Windows 10: I tried dual-booting with that new operating system years ago when Microsoft was giving it away for free, but my system always freezes up a few minutes into using it. I presume some driver in the system is not compatible with my old hardware.
A 150 year-old system?
Eight years is a long time for a computer nerd to keep a system. Some claim that would make my home desktop equivalent to a 150-year-old person. But I figure the solid state drives were like giving a granny bionic limbs; they kept her going quite well!
With that boost in 2014, the Velocity Micro Z35 I bought in 2009 has lasted longer than any of my other nine desktops since I began using computers 37 years ago. The previous record holder was a 1993 machine by Gateway 2000, which held out until 2000…naturally! I have often bought higher-end desktop machines so they would last longer, and back in 2009 I invested about $1,800 in what was then a high-end system.
A $225 Chromebook versus a $2,600 Surface Book
I recently spent $2,600 of my own money on a top-of-the-line Microsoft Surface Book, thinking I would want that for work. But I’ve found that I can happily use my district-supplied $225 Chromebook at meetings and for presentations. I simply don’t use the pen or touchscreen of the far more powerful Surface Book, love how easy it is to carry around the small Chromebook, and prefer to use multi-monitor desktop systems in my work offices. So I considered using my additional $150 purchase of a Surface Dock and video adapters to hook my Surface Book to the desktop monitors and keyboard in my home office instead of buying a new desktop CPU. But I decided to keep the Surface Book ready at hand at work, trusting that it will eventually prove useful when I’m working away from the office. At home my mobile needs are fully met by my iPad Air 2, which has even superceded my sixth Kindle, a Voyage, as my e-reader of choice.
Costly or cheap? CHEAP!
My tremendous overinvestment in the Surface Back left me in no mood to buy a top-end home desktop computer. So my new system is a fairly cheap one that is a generation behind the current leading edge: I took advantage of an online deal to get a Dell XPS 8910 for only $600.
It has a decent microprocessor, plenty of RAM (although I’m still going to double it to 16 GB), and a decent but not spiffy graphics card; I’m not a gamer. I’ll scavenge my existing solid state and optical drives to replace its spinning hard drive, but I am going to build up from a clone of its fresh install of Windows 10 Pro. A detailed comparison of my old and new desktops is at the end of this post for my fellow nerds.
I was prompted to finally switch because I’m now using Windows 10 at work. Almost all of the school district’s computers still run Windows 7. With Microsoft ending security updates for Windows 7 in 2020, any new machines we buy really need to be Windows 10. Like corporations, schools are loathe to update operating systems since that inevitably incurs additional training and support needs, plus there may not be updated drivers for our many old peripherals.
So I decided to be a guinea pig and move to Windows 10 in my work office, noting the incompatibilities I encountered. The good news is that I’ve seen no problems with any of our usual services and have found that, with perseverance, I can print to various older devices around the building…no thanks to the simplified (meaning dumbed-down) printer setup in Windows 10. I actually hedged my bet by having my work systems dual-boot to Windows 7, but I find I never use the latter.
Spinning vs. solid state
I also pushed the district to buy new systems with solid state drives. I was impressed by how the solid state drive in my 2010 MacBook Air made that system really fly. So in 2014 I upgraded my desktop computer’s storage to solid state. That dramatically improved boot time and extended the usable life of the system by several years.
During my last year in the classroom, the old computer at my teacher desk truly foundered, taking forever to boot up and often lagging in playing videos and more. I know the old and slow spinning hard drive in it was the culprit, burdened with the usual Windows cruft from years of installing different programs. So I’m determined that we shift to solid state drives in the district. Our increasing reliance on Google cloud services and its new Drive File Stream reduces my concern over the limited capacity of the solid state drives we can afford.
If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
I’ve come to like Windows 10, although I make little use of its improved start menu, built-in apps, or Cortana features. Windows 7 certainly doesn’t seem antiquated. So why switch? It really isn’t confusing to use Windows 7 at home and Windows 10 at work.
Well, my old system still has an old processor and graphics card. So I can tell the difference in its responsiveness compared to my newer machines at work, especially if I’m rendering video or other processor-intensive tasks. And the build-up of Windows cruft in my home system from many years of playing around with programs is immense.
But perhaps the strongest motivation is that the upgrade would allow me to use the Windows 10 mail app to access my school email. You see, our district still uses the ancient Exchange Server 2010 for Outlook. That means we’re stuck with the simply dreadful light version of the Outlook Web App on a Chromebook or a Windows 7 computer since the full version of the old Outlook Web App is no longer compatible with modern web browsers.
I am pushing Tech Services to finally address this issue, either by upgrading our Exchange Server or finding a way for us to use Outlook in Office 365. But I’ve waited years for them to fix this, and I’m simply done. Years of having far better access to email and my appointments on a phone or tablet than on my home desktop machine have taken their toll.
Ultrawide vs. multiple monitors
Since I saved a bundle on the desktop upgrade, I decided to try using an ultrawide monitor. I’ve used two monitors at home for years: currently I have a 24″ ViewSonic that is 1920×1080 pixels in a 16:9 aspect ratio and an old Dell that is 1280×1024 pixels in a 4:3 ratio. And at work I’m spoiled with two big 16:9 monitors. I love having different apps on each screen, which greatly improves my productivity.
So I decided to buy a used 34″ Dell UltraSharp U3417W with 3440×1440 pixels in a 21:9 ratio for $589. It reportedly has great color calibration out of the box, and it will be interesting to see if I like having one huge wide curving screen. I hope its Dell Easy Arrange layout controls are useful, but I will of course have the use of Windows 10’s Snap Assist.
I’ve had some time to use the new computer and monitor, and both have worked out great. The monitor is beautiful, and I like how Dell’s Display Manager lets me divide the screen into areas and simply drag windows to them, which then snap to fit. I like the continuity of working in Windows 10 both at home and at work.
I love how the new system is almost silent, making it practical to set it on the credenza beside my desk. That keeps it off the floor and hopefully will reduce the dust that accumulates inside it.
I haven’t really tested the increased processing power of the new system; that will probably have to await some future video editing.
Comparing my 9th and 10th Home Desktop Computers
|2009 System||2017 System|
|Model||Vector Z35||XPS 8910|
|CPU Cost||$1,796||$600 (plus $76 RAM upgrade; replacing hard drive)|
|Microprocessor||Intel i7-920 with four 2.66 GHz cores (2.93 GHz max), 8 MB Cache; 4.8 GT/s bus; 130 watts||Intel i7-6700 with four 3.4 GHz cores (4 GHz max), 8MB Cache; 8 GT/s bus; 65 watts|
|RAM||8 GB DDR3 SDRAM 2133 MHz SDRAM||8 GB (2x4GB) DDR 2133 MHz SDRAM (doubling to 16 GB with $76 second set of RAM cards)|
|Motherboard||MSI MS-7522 (X58 Pro-E)||?|
|Graphics Card||AMD ATI Radeon HD 3450; 512 MB||NVIDIA GeForce GT 730; 2GB DDR3 memory|
|Primary Storage||Two 1 TB 7200 rpm Raid 1 SATA HDD replaced in 2014 with a Crucial M550 1 terabyte SATA solid state drive (SSD) with 500 GB USB 3 external SSD||Will replace its 1 TB 7200 rpm SATA HDD with same solid state drives|
|Optical Drive||Original 20x DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Burner with LightScribe Labeling replaced in 2015 with Asus 24x DVD-RWB1ST||8x DVD burner|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (Service Pack 1)||Windows 10 Pro|
|Bluetooth||4.0 dongle||4.2 built-in|