New Fast PCs

by Bob Seidel

* I found some more things I don't like about the new Time Warner cable box software. When browsing through the Guide looking for a show, I often stumble across a program I would like to view that is already running. I would like to find when it would be shown again so I could view or record the entire show. Using the old software you could just press the C button in the Guide and you would be positioned with the search screen already set to the name of the program you were watching. If there were other times that it was being shown you could easily select one. Recording the show took only a few button presses to set up.

If you Search using the new software, the new search screen starts at the top of the alphabet, rather than positioned at the show you had been currently viewing. This requires you to laboriously key in the full name of the show until you find it. This is a definite step back.

Another strangeness that I am investigating concerns the automatic recording of running programs. The DVR (digital video recorder) version of the box is always recording the current show you are watching. I often turn off the TV itself (not the cable box) if I was going out for a few minutes, assuming that the cable box was still recording. When I got back, all I had to do was to turn the TV back on, and rewind the show back to where I had left off. But with the new software, turning off the TV causes the box to terminate the old recording! When you turn the TV back on it is just as if you switched to a new channel - all the previously recorded minutes of that show are gone. Yes, the cable box can detect the presence of an attached TV when using the advanced HDMI cable, but why would they do that? I am trying to get my data together on this one and will be calling TW.

* I have heard first person recently that Dell has completely replaced entire PCs because they were unable to fix them. This happened to a client, and also to a relative of mine. I understand that sometimes you just have a lemon and it would cost more in parts and labor to try to fix it rather than just send out a new unit. But neither of these PCs were lemons to my knowledge - the issue is that Dell phone and field support were unable to properly diagnose the failing part. Dell support seems still to be on a downward slope.

* Speaking of PCs, the time between when a new component (such as Intel's latest processors or the latest huge hard drives) comes out and when it appears in the stores in a commodity-priced box is getting very short. This week's circulars from the Wilmington electronics stores show some very attractively priced PC systems with leading edge components. For $900-$1200 (depending on whether you get a monitor included) you can get a PC with an Intel Q6600 or Q6700 Quad processor, 3 or 4 gigabytes of RAM, and a huge hard drive.

My video editing buddies on the Internet tell me that the new Intel Quad processors are very fast. If you have an application that can take advantage of two or four simultaneous processors, these chips are a winner. But even normal Windows tasks will run faster on a multi-processor machine.

The normal 32-bit Windows (even Vista) cannot use more than 3 gigabytes of RAM and so commodity PCs now have reached the limit. And it is hard to imagine filling one of today's huge hard drives - 750 gigabytes to 1 terabyte is an enormous amount of data, even if you are doing video editing.

One of the performance issues with commodity priced boxes was that they often use integrated graphics circuitry instead of separate plug-in graphics cards. This will have some performance impact, but only if you are a gamer. And now the integrated chipsets I see are from the leaders in graphics technology (ATI and nVidia) so they are quite acceptable for most users.

The bottom line is that you can now buy a PC that is just about as capable as you are going to need for any application, for a commodity box price.

(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.)