New PCs Really Are Fast!

by Bob Seidel

* A friend asked me the age-old question the other day about the life expectancy of data on CDs and DVDs. So let me take a few minutes to again go over that subject.

The question is not appropriate. The life expectancy of the data on the medium is a secondary issue - what is of primary importance is whether you are going to find something to read it in! In other words, why debate whether the data on a CD has a 25 year life, when you probably won't find anything to read that CD with in 25 years! Try to find an 8-track tape reader. Or an 8" or 5.25" floppy disk reader - or soon even a 3.5" reader! Or a Zip drive. Everybody used to backup to QIC tape - good luck finding one today. The message is that you have to put in place a continuous process of copying your data from older media to new. And there are advantages to doing that. You can fit about thirty CDs worth of data on one BluRay DVD. Just be a conspicuous consumer and keep buying that new technology! Now where did I put that old IBM punched card deck?

* You might think that I am always on the edge of new technology, but in reality I am not. I suppose I am actually a bit on the cheap side, but more than that I don't believe in throwing something away if it is still usable. In the case of PCs, that is especially true these days because the power of current PCs has far exceeded almost all requirements. Doing word processing, or spreadsheets, or browsing the Internet takes only a fraction of the power of today's PCs.

The PC that I use at home is getting on four years old now, but is in fine shape. Even the LCD screen, which is in fact more than four years old, is still great. I often buy at the higher end of the scale and so what I buy tends to last longer.

But my primary hobby these days is creating DVDs and videos. That is the one application that eats up processing horsepower - you just can't be too fast for video. My PC was starting to show its age in this application so it was time to consider a new one. What to buy?

I generally do not just buy a bunch of parts and put them together, although some people do that. There are companies which will in-effect do that for you; the one I use was able to build a new PC for me for less than $100 more than the cost of the parts alone and give me a warranty to boot. I ended up with a quad Intel processor (The Q9450), 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and a Western Digital VelociRaptor 10,000 RPM had drive. I will of course heavily modify the PC once I finish checking it out and once some of these leading edge prices come down. More RAM is a definite, along with another VelociRaptor configured as RAID 0 (striping data across two drives to increase performance).

I did choose to get Windows Vista. I agonized over that as I am really not a Vista fan and experiences on my other Vista PC have been underwhelming. But Vista is here and now and I might as well get used to it.

Another interesting quirk in the new PC market is that some manufacturers are offering PCs with more than 4GB of RAM. This is a waste of money, as Windows Vista 32-bit (the normal version) cannot use more than about 3.5GB of RAM! But Vista 64 is now available. Some of the new PCs are shipping with Vista 64, but I wouldn't recommend adopting it just yet - there are still too many problems with drivers and software. But these new PCs are 64-bit capable (as mine is) and you can always move up to Vista 64 in the future.

The new PC is a screamer. I did a test video rendering run on my old PC that took 21 minutes; on the new PC it took 4! But I still use my old PC; I bought what is called a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch that allows me to switch my peripherals (and the speaker also) between the two PCs by just tapping a switch. It actually saved me money - instead of buying a new monitor for $250+, the switch only cost me about $100.

And, of course, the most important thing is that I am having tons of fun getting the new system configured and running!

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)