The big PC rebuild project of 201121st December 201024th March 2018Iron Wolf

I wanted to take a little break from reviewing to talk about my upcoming projects to rebuild a couple of my desktops.

I have an old Compaq that I got about 5 years back now with Windows XP, two 160gb hard drives and some old vid card, an Nvidia 7600 GT I think, with 256mb power and the rig has 2 gb of DDR memory and the CPU is an old AMD Athalon 64 3400+. So it is pretty old and served me well as a games machine for a long time, but had limited upgrade potential and as the years wore on I saw little point as it would mean a total rebuild anyway. And the base itself is not really big enough to accommodate many of the monster GFX cards of modern times. With my usual approach of ‘Go big or go home’ when it comes to computers I would naturally be going for one of these, so tat meant a full ATX-E capable case.

This happened around summer last year when I finally assembled the pieces and a fresh copy of Windows XP, going for a 64 bit version of XP pro to work with the 8gb of DDR 2 gaming memory and a massive 1gb Nvidia 285 GTX card the size of a house brick. Married to a gaming board by Gigabyte with much upgrade potential straddled by a sexy Intel Core 2 Duo 8400 with 3ghz of speed and a heat sink putting my house’s radiators to shame.

I relegated my old Compaq, thumping on strong like a faithful old terrier getting past its better years but with a strong heart still, to media work now where I store movies and TV series files and such. But having an old version of XP home, and the hardware not liking SP3 causing a crash and roll-back when upgrading, means it is going to drop off the map eventually. And it limits my media steaming capabilities not having Media Centre on board and I cannot convince my XBox 360 or PS3 to access the shared folders on the network to play stuff on my TV downstairs.

My TV has a USB input and plays nearly all media files save for WMV/A files, so sticking an external hard drive into it and playing the files from there is no major issue. It just means I connect my Win 7 laptop to the hard drive and move files through the network from the Compaq upstairs onto the folders on the hard drive.

This can be tiresome at times though and I long for a more holistic solution. One would be a wifi external network hard drive connected to my TV downstairs that I can view as a network location on any PC in the house and move files to it. This would mean I could send them from the desktop upstairs using some kind of synch software on a schedule or manually activated. This would free up my laptop from the task as I need to perch it near the TV to connect it so it is not convenient to use as a social networking machine in my living room while moving files. I could also access the drive from the laptop or elsewhere to reorganise the folders as needed and rename them if required.

I am still looking at this as an option for the media PC but nothing seems to be on the market right now that would do this for me. Possibly the Seagate range of GoFlex stuff might introduce something but short of getting a very expensive Linksys NAS media hub the size of a compact PC tower I likely going to be waiting a while. And as I use my PS3 mainly for BluRay to begin with I would like to use the streaming capability more effectively. So this means rebuilding the media PC into something better.

Sure I could just install a copy of Win 7 on there anyway but if the hardware does not like SP3 to begin with it does not bode well. So a hardware upgrade and full rebuild is still on the cards.

I am not sure what I will go with yet, and I might get myself an Intel i3, or a mid range i5. It would not need more than 4gb of RAM anyway as it is only streaming to one device and I am happy with the download speeds on just 2gb of RAM to begin with. And this is old DDR standards too, so when I get an i-series in there it will need DDR3 as a standard anyway which is blistering by any standard. And since you get both 32 bit and 64 bit on an Win 7 disk anyway I have it for if I need to unlock it so I might as well install the 64 bit version off the bat. I am contemplating a fast hard disk too, like a 10k rpm disk, but only if there is any point to it for the usage I will put it to. Some might suggest a Solid State Disk for total speed, but they have limited read/write lifespans and if I am watching stuff and streaming it that will be a lot of read/write cycles and most likely I will wear out the disk in short order. Plus they are expensive to buy compared to conventional HDD technology where you could get 2tb of space now for the same price as a 100gb SSD.

So, there is much research to be done, and this is just for one PC rebuild. The main dilemma I have is that I might want to upgrade the CPU, and by necessary extension the motherboard, of my new games rig to an i7 in the future when they become more reasonably priced. But in this age of austerity and such I look at the long term savings I could get from this. While the hardware is not a priority right now, doing such an upgrade would need a new version of Windows installing as switching out the CPU and motherboard can de-authorise an install of Windows. So where does the dilemma come in?

Well, Windows XP 64 has some issues too, namely not accepting SP3 since they do not make it for XP Pro 64 to begin with. This is now an issue for my gaming since a few things are dropping support for SP2 like Windows Live Games marketplace where I tried to download a DLC for FO3 and was told I could no longer do this. So this is forcing my hand to upgrade to Win 7 now. I do not mind this as I wanted Win 7 on the game rig anyway but it was not released at the time so I settled for XP Pro 64. If I now upgrade to Win 7 then when I want to update the backbone of the hardware I will need to reactivate Windows anyway.

I hear, though, that you can ask Microsoft nicely over the phone to do this without charge if you tell them you have upgraded the computer and it is the same machine. So getting the cheaper upgrade copy of Win 7 might not be a total waste of money but I want to see if I can do this first. And since I want to put a new version of Win 7 on my media PC I will rebuild then a 3 user ‘Family Pack’ would be nice to have. They sold them last year when Win 7 was released and then they stopped printing them. However they are back on the market again but they are only upgrade versions. While this is a good thing for my games PC, it is not for the media PC as I will be putting in a totally fresh hard drive as stated earlier. Even if I do not go for a 10k rpm + disk I will put a new hard drive in to upgrade to the latest SATA version as the old ones are the original version and there is no sense doing anything half arsed.

The issue here is that you cannot install an upgrade version onto a blank disk because it will not let you unless you have a fully active copy of Windows XP or higher already installed. So a 3 user upgrade for Win 7 is pointless… or is it?

You see, in my stupidity I ordered two copies of XP Pro 64 last year and one of them is still in the box, unused… Since it is of no use I can always install this on the media PC and then install Win 7 over it. And I will still have one copy of Win 7 upgrade to spare should I need it.

I am not sure what I will do with that one yet since I have no other computers I could put it on and no old versions of Windows to play with, except maybe the one on the old disks I will no longer have on my Compaq. Not that it will be a Compaq any more by then but anyway. The other thought I have is that both my XP Pro 64’s are OEM versions. I am not sure what impact this will have on upgrading them or reinstaling them on different machines but if I am able to do both with little fuss then I could always save the spare license of Win 7 for when I need it to overwrite the XP Pro 64 disks in the future.

So this is the prospect on my mind right now and I have some research to do before I start saving up and buying stuff. I have already secured a Win 7 family pack since even if I only use two of the licenses it is cheaper than buying one upgrade and one full version for my needs. Looking forward to backing up my folder of files and stuff… Well maybe not. Theoretically I should be able to run the update disk, do a fresh install of Win 7 64 bit, and reinstall the driver disk for the motherboard. Everything else after that should go as seamless… The update advisor says there are a couple of unknown issues and most of them are unimportant.

So I am getting into this today. Wish me luck, people.