Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Quick and Easy Desktop Computer

In a separate post, I have described my decision process that lay behind my purchase and setup of a second computer. This post describes that actual process of purchase and setup. As the other post explains, I felt that this second computer would serve several purposes. An important one was to be a backstop in case the primary desktop computer failed or otherwise needed time-consuming downtime. That is, I wanted this second computer to be capable of doing most of my basic day-to-day tasks. I wanted it to do them comfortably, which meant being more powerful and easier to work at, for extended periods, than my laptop would be. At the same time, I didn't want this second computer to be as expensive or powerful, and certainly not as time-consuming to set up, as the primary computer had been. So the first step I took, in the direction of assembling an easier and more lightweight computer, was to go to Newegg and search for a highly recommended barebones system, which meant a case, power supply, and motherboard. The one I selected was the MSI MBOX K9N6SGM-V, which had pretty good reviews from a respectable number of users. This would be my first foray into using an AMD (as distinct from Intel) processor since sometime in the 1990s, when I had been plagued by incompatibilities that ultimately traced back to the AMD processor I was then using. I had been hearing good things about AMD for some time, and I decided it would be OK to take a chance with them again on this backup computer. The CPU socket was the AMD Socket AM2, which gave me a choice of AMD Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64 FX, or Athlon 64 processors. I chose the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+, which in the peculiar ways of the CPU world was openly "code-named" the Brisbane. User reviews of this chip were quite enthusiastic. The motherboard came with an onboard video connection for one monitor. If I wanted a second monitor, I would have to purchase a dual-head video card. Since I had decided (as described in the other post cited at the outset, above) to do KVM switching of only one monitor -- that is, to share only one monitor between this and the primary desktop computer -- I did not expect to need a different video card. As described in that other post, the decision to share both monitors would entail a relatively expensive and potentially much more complex and frustrating process of trying to buying and trying to achieve results with a dual-monitor KVM switch. The motherboard also came with onboard audio and Ethernet connections. Also, as just mentioned, I was planning to share a monitor I already had. I already had a hard drive that I planned to use in the system. The only other thing I needed was a DVD burner, which I got for about $40 including shipping. So my actual outlay was only about $300. That was for the second system, including the stuff needed for sharing a monitor between the primary and secondary desktop computers, and also for sharing a printer and external hard drive among three computers (including my laptop). The next thing to do, after placing my order, was to wait for the parts to arrive. They did. I liked what I saw. But it didn't work. I called MSI tech support. They figured the problem was either the motherboard or power supply, but we couldn't tell which. I got into an online chat with Victoria at Newegg. She said she was sorry, but there was no way they could just swap out the power supply or motherboard. I would have to pay for shipping both ways -- to send back the defective MBOX and to order a new one. I spoke with her supervisor, Isabel (do you suppose these were their real names?), who said the same thing. I sent an e-mail to her supervisor, Mike. Mike reversed them. I guess he saw that I had been ordering a lot of computer hardware recently. Basically, I got a good Antec power supply to replace the Soly Tech one that came with the MBOX. We didn't know if that would solve the problem, but Mike wanted to start with the power supply, and that was fine with me, though it did mean another week's delay while I waited for the power supply to arrive. The power supply did solve the problem, and I praised Newegg to the skies. I reassembled the computer, and this time it ran. I felt that I could have had a power supply problem with any system, though it would be less likely if I had been buying top-notch components (at a much higher price) on my own. On balance, I felt the barebones system approach worked adequately for purposes of assembling a functional second computer.