New PC vs old

81 lb monster? Meet your 32 lb replacement.

The old PC was a Core 2 Duo with two 150 GB hard drives and 8 GB of RAM. The video card is a Nvidia GTX-260 (forgot how much RAM that has).

The new one’s specs can be found here. If the old worked reliably I would not have gotten a new one. But as we say at work “It is what it is, and we are where we are”.

I’m probably going to clean off the old keyboard as I don’t like the new one too much. The new PC is fast and I like it.

That’s all I can take!

After my complaining and moaning for months my Dell XPS 720 refuses to boot up this morning. Again. That’s the final straw and I ordered a new PC this morning.

I was planning on building my own PC but the fact is I don’t have time to do that. Building a PC from parts is not really fun for me anymore and I just want the flipping thing to work.

I have been purchasing Dell equipment for years and recommend them to people all the time. But lately the Dell experience has soured. Even my buying a budget Ubuntu based Mini from Dell turned into a horror show.

In my basement I have a HP/Compaq Presario 8000. It’s 8 years old and has never given me any problems. That’s the sort of experience I’m hoping for with this new model so HP gets the nod from me today.

So with a budget in hand I purchased the following PC online from HP.

HP Pavilion Elite e9280t PC

    • Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
    • Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-920 processor [2.66GHz, 1MB L2 + 8MB shared L3 cache]
    • 12GB DDR3-1066MHz SDRAM [6 DIMMs]
    • 1.5TB 7200 rpm SATA 3Gb/s hard drive
    • 1.8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 260 [2 DVI, HDMI and VGA adapters]
    • LightScribe 16X max. DVD+/-R/RW SuperMulti drive
    • Integrated 10/100/1000 (Gigabit) Ethernet, No wireless LAN
    • 15-in-1 memory card reader, 1 USB, 1394, audio
    • No TV Tuner
    • Integrated 7.1 channel sound with front audio ports
    • No speakers
    • HP multimedia keyboard and HP optical mouse
    • Microsoft(R) Works 9.0
    • Norton Internet Security(TM) 2010 - 15 month
    • HP Home & Home Office Store in-box envelope

Estimated build date: December 16, 2009

I came in $43 over budget. Lily will forgive me.

I’ll remove most of the HP consumer software and put on my own. This will be a drop in replacement for the 81lb behemoth next to my desk. It’s not a top of the line PC gaming rig but it is a good upgrade from my existing PC. Hopefully I will get it before Christmas.

I can’t wait for my XPS 720 to come out of it’s drunken stupor and give it the news of it’s replacement.

Generally, I am a satisfied Dell customer

I am a repeat Dell customer. I’ve been buying their equipment for years and I have always found that they take care of any problems I have. If something is not working, I call them and get support.

I have had problems in the past but it has always been taken care of by Dell.

So last month I purchased a Dell MINI 9 netbook. The deal I got was the recent $199 Ubuntu special and my new toy arrived yesterday.

The built in wi-fi card is spectacularly dysfunctional.  It is not satisfied to just drop >70% of it’s packets, it has to give it’s all and interferes with my wireless access point.  When it is in wireless mode, no one on my WLAN is safe; it kicks off other PC’s and laptops.

The MINI 9 associates successfully with the wireless router.  My DHCP server logs the request, the server gets the ack, and the MINI 9 gets an IP address.  That’s about as far as it goes and after that the netbook is useless.

So I contacted Dell via their online support chat. They don’t support the Ubuntu version on the chat line and I was given a number to call.

I then dialed that 866 number that they gave me. That did not go so well; they insisted that my wireless router needed updating. I explained that there are many things on that wireless router that work fine and that the MINI 9 was actually interfering with the other devices.

We went back and forth and I finally told them that the Dell MINI 9 I received was defective and I wanted a refund. I received an e-mail with a link to get the shipping label and tomorrow I will drop it off at UPS.

What I was looking for was a way to make my MINI 9 work. Some setting or configuration in Ubuntu to get the wifi card functioning. What I got was “This is not our problem” and the implication was that they might not have granted me a refund.  That was never stated outright but I could not send it back without a return number.

So this all did not exactly go as I intended. The Dell MINI 9 is a cool device and I would have liked to have kept it. But I don’t have time to play games with technical support. Now I’ll probably shop around for another Linux based netbook.

Raw NEF files and WD’s MyBook

I take pictures in Nikon’s raw NEF format because I can use Photoshop Element’s raw importer to tweak the exposure, clarity, black level, etc.  But the NEF files are often 9 MB files and I have almost 3,000 of them and that’s just since May.  That came out to 22 GB’s and counting. Even cleaning up the ones I don’t want to keep still leaves me with a mess.

Time to get more storage. Instead of just installing another drive in my system, I wanted to get an external drive.  In the past I was put off on USB hard drive cases, so this time I went looking for a complete out of the box solution.

Costco had a instant manufacturer’s rebate on the 1 TB Western Digital MyBook Home Edition.  We went and picked it up very quickly. It supports USB 2.0 (480 Mb/s max), Firewire (400 Mb/s max), and eSATA (3Gb/s max).

Guess which interface I picked?  But my Dell XPS 700720 does not have a built in eSATA port.  So I went to Bestbuy and picked up a DYNEX eSATA card and a 6 foot long cable (the MyBook only comes with USB and Firewire cables).

After I installed the card and hooked up the drive, I ran “Command Prompt” as Administrator and ran this command:

convert F: /FS:NTFS

The drive ships with a FAT32 file system and I prefer NTFS for Vista.  The mostly empty drive converted quickly and I started to move data to it.

It’s a fast drive when using eSATA.  I went to my Pictures short cut and right clicked the icon. I selected Properties -> Location, clicked Move…, typed in the new location on the MyBook and clicked Apply.

It moved 22 GBs of files onto the drive in no time at all.  Less than 10 minutes.  Using USB or my Firewire port would have taken a lot longer than that.

Right now I’m playing with my Photoshop Elements catalog, but so far I’m satisfied with the new drive.  It’s got a LED bar on the face of it that does the vertical Cylon eye thing.  I may keep that covered up when I’m watching old episodes of Battlestar Galactica just to be safe.

XPS 700 to XPS 720 upgrade

The Computer Formerly Known As XPS 700Today the service technician arrived to do the scheduled upgrade of my XPS 700 to XPS 720 mother board. It was all professional and mostly well done with four not so big problems I noticed after he left.

  1. The color LED’s on the top half of the front panel are setup wrong. When I select the default diamond color, it comes up gold. Lucky for me the off setting works. This is probably due to the LED cable being put on incorrectly.
  2. The back panel where the ports for USB, ethernet, etc. is off by a millimeter so when I plug USB stuff in it goes in tightly. No big deal, I can live with that.
  3. The power button was not secured properly so it is recessed in more than it should be. Really annoying but I already see what he missed and how to fix it.
  4. He did not wipe off the old thermal paste from the CPU and heat sink before putting it all back together. That one worries me and Alek (Alek said “Uh, don’t play long CPU intensive video games. You do have a temperature sensor right?”)

That last one worries me. Saturday Alek will come over with thermal paste and we’ll clean the heat sink and CPU and apply new. I am sure it will be fine until then.

Using 20/20 hindsight I can see that it would have been better if Alek and I did the installation. I figured that the Dell technician would be trained, and I am sure that he was. I am also sure that he’s over worked and had lots more stops to go today so I’m not upset or anything.

I did have to call up Microsoft and re-activate Vista but that was expected and I did that as soon as my PC booted up.

Note: calling up Microsoft to re-validate something I paid for feels like a protection racket. I had to call because I activated too many times and the online activation no longer works for me. I had to speak with someone because the voice system either does not like my accent (huh?) or my activation is flagged as “what is this guy doing activating over and over again?” I hope Microsoft never get greedy and asks for more protection money. I am sure that would never happen.

The upgrade and the service were free and it’s a good deal. If you qualify for this offer, go to the web site and apply for this.

UPDATE: Nice! He forgot to connect one of my DVD drives.

Dell XPS free motherboard exchange

Found out about this on Engadet this morning. This is cool: go here are read this and maybe this link too. Then go to and put in your XPS 700 service tag and sign up for the free motherboard exchange.

I signed up early this morning. It’s a remarkable offer and I qualify for a free exchange as well as a free installation. I’m supposed to hear from them within 10 business days and will post an update at that time.

When I ordered my XPS from Dell I had some problems. They were taken care of and I am a happy customer. To now also offer this free exchange as a way of saying “Thanks for the business” is a great way to guarantee that I’ll buy my next PC or laptop from Dell.

Now I really, really, hope that the original XPS 700 roll out taught them about ramping up for high demand.

XPS 700 BIOS update

Version 1.1.6 of the Flash BIOS is out and can be downloaded here. This version supports 64 bit operating systems.

The prior 1.1.3 release would not boot up an x64 Ubuntu live disk. Nice to have a 64 bit Core 2 Duo (what a lousy marketing name) and not be able to play with a 64 bit operating system. After I applied the update I loaded up my Ubuntu 6.06 x64 CD and booted into the live desktop. Cool, previously it would hang on just after unpacking the kernel.

This is probably done to support 64 bit Vista, but now I have the possibility of running a 64 bit Linux on my box just for fun.

Swapped out the system board

Earlier this week I received the replacement system board from Dell for my XPS 700.
The old system board was not always starting up. Sometimes it would take 4 false starts to get it to boot up; it…

Earlier this week I received the replacement system board from Dell for my XPS 700.

The old system board was not always starting up. Sometimes it would take 4 false starts to get it to boot up; it it was more than 3 I usually just gave up and went to bed.

The new board came in an anti-static bag with one cleaning pad and conductive paste.

XPS replacement system board

The system board is attached to a plate that is held in by two screws. Once you get the cables put aside it’s straight forward to remove or install the system. Alek used the cleaning pad to make the top of the CPU spotless. The heat sink shined.


After the system was plugged in and running the fun began. The system would start and stop all without a hitch. That problem was completely solved. But the BIOS was not keeping the raid configuration, so the system could not boot.

I called the direct number I was given last week. I put in the extension and found out that my contacts voice mail was full. I could not even leave a message so I tried the general support line. While waiting I noticed that the BIOS was version 0.1.2 dated 5/5/06.

That did not fill me with confidence since the old system board was 1.1.3. After going around in circles, I unplugged the power, looked in the case at the connectors, and poof it started booting. I flashed the BIOS with the support person on the phone and all seems well now.

I’m going to call up the shipper and have the old system board picked up. In the meanwhile I’ll be pounding on the XPS 700 to make sure that it’s all good.

Dell still can’t get it’s act together (updated)

Update : 12:30PM 9/2/2006
After calling their 800 number, I got a gentleman who really knew what he was doing. It’s the system board. They are sending me a replacement system board.
The support…

Update: 12:30PM 9/2/2006

After calling their 800 number, I got a gentleman who really knew what he was doing. It’s the system board. They are sending me a replacement system board.

The support technician actually restored my faith in Humanity!

That may be overstating it, but he really did his job well. I’ll see how long my replacement part takes to get here and if that solves the issue. Ought to; the error we were getting was the same each time.

Original blog entry here:

Sigh. Don’t buy computers from Dell. Give some other company a chance to screw up like Dell does.

I am really beginning to think that Dell’s only concern is to take orders and move boxes only. Their once really good support model is not really working.

Dell shipped me my XPS 700 and it works well. I am playing F.E.A.R. at 1920×1200 with all the options turned onto the max. I average about 112 FPS at that resolution.

It’s a great system. When it powers on that is.

Last night around midnight I tried to show Lily my new kick butt workstation. After 10 minutes of trying, the system would not turn on. The fans would switch on to max rpm and stay there. No BIOS messages on the screen, no sound from typing on the keyboard, nothing.

That’s bad on a new machine but that is not why I am complaining. When you buy something you expect it to work. But us “grown ups” know that sometimes this happens.

What really ticks me off is that Dell’s support system does not know my machine exists. I cannot get support because the service tag for my workstation is not recognized by their support system. I tried to call the support line and got the “Approximate wait time is 10 minutes” message. Having done that before, I figured I would try the online chat system.

The support rep I chatted with yesterday basically said “try back later”. 18 hours later the support system still does not know about my workstation. I tried the support chat again but since I did not have a valid service tag, the system would not even start a chat with the right person.

Instead I chatted with someone else who sent me to the correct queue. Which of course did not even start because I had did not have a valid tag number. One good thing about chat, as opposed to actually speaking with someone, is that I get a transcript of the chat, with me saying “it won’t work”. Doesn’t help me but I feel like I can at least track this nonsense.

I resorted to using the web page mailer to send a I’m-mad-as-hell message. I have no expectation that this will actually accomplish anything.

Sigh. Wonder if HP has decent workstations?