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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Time for the Next Gecko?

I went into my home office today to check something on my desktop, and found a big, fat Windows system error message. Following standard Windows procedure, I rebooted, only to get the same error again. Not good.

My current desktop is affectionately known as Gecko 3.5, following my long-time naming scheme. The first Gecko was a custom-built Win95 computer I got in 1997 to replace my first personal desktop, a Gateway 486DX2. The second Gecko was a Win98 Pentium II from Gateway, back when they were Gateway 2000. It's now my parents' computer, having been handed down to replace the original Gecko. Gecko III was an AthlonXP system that I built from parts in 2002. Gecko 3.5 hasn't been dubbed Gecko 4 because it was really just a non-upgrade rebuild of Gecko 3 to replace a bad motherboard, plus it was off-track for my typical four-year cycle.

Which brings us back to today's problem: Gecko 3.5 is ailing. I've been planning to replace it for some time, but the plan was to wait for Vista's release so I could just get it pre-installed. If I need a new system immediately, though, I won't be able to wait -- which raises the question of whether I even want another Windows system at all. An iMac or Mac Pro would do pretty much everything I need, and dual-booting with Windows would do the rest.

Normally right now, with a non-functional desktop, I'd be in full crisis mode. I'd be taking meals at the computer desk and planning a likely all-nighter to try to get it fixed ASAP. If we weren't in crunch mode at work, it's not inconceivable that I'd take a sick day. Since I have a laptop that's now my primary computer, though, the pressure is mostly off. In fact, the only urgent reasons to fix it are that it's our household file and print server and it works better for remoting into work.

Fortunately, I'm fairly certain that a complete rebuild or replacement isn't in the cards. Right now it looks like a simple DLL restore, with a worst-case scenario of a new hard drive so I can install Windows on it fresh without losing my data, but it has caused me to start thinking about Gecko 4.

One interesting statistic is that I've pretty much followed a version of Moore's Law on my systems. My first computer (Gecko 0?) had a 66 MHz CPU. Gecko 2 was a 4x+ power increase four years later (Gecko replaced Gecko 0 when it died prematurely after 3 years). At 1600 MHz Gecko 3 was a 4x increase over G2. The primary reason I haven't been in a hurry to upgrade is that 1.6 GHz is still a pretty decent machine. I could put in a better graphics card and run pretty much anything I want. Here we are four years later, and where's my 6.4 GHz processor?

The answer, of course, is that Moore's Law caught up with the limitations of atomic physics, so we're a little stalled at the moment. Everything is dual-core and multi-processor now, which is a nice segue into tomorrow's post. :-)

Now I'm off to do some computer Windows maintenance....

Update: In all fairness, I have to say that I really can't blame Windows for this one. After some testing, it's obvious that what I'm dealing with is actual hardware failure. It seems to be just my main hard drive, but I'm going to check tonight to make sure it's not the IDE controller on the motherboard. Luckily, I just made a full backup to the new USB drive we got last week, so my data is safe for now.

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