Although the weather isn’t showing it yet Spring is just around the corner and one of my long put off home projects is a technology overhaul. I had fully intended to do this project shortly after buying the condo back in 2009 but a combination of travel, work, getting married and other priorities had pushed most of this off until recently. I bought a new camera earlier this year, Nikon D7000 which is just a fantastic piece of gear but along with that I started shooting most everything in RAW format and needed a newer computer than my four year old Mac Mini in order to process photos with any type of efficiency and to run better software e.g. Photoshop.
Now that I had the camera, next up was the computer. The last two computers I’ve bought have both been from Apple. I got a Macbook back in 2006 and the Mini about a year later. While both are still running just fine and are nice to use and very stable, they’re also both lacking the horsepower needed for higher volume photo manipulation due to their on board Intel graphics cards.
After evaluating the price to features for another Apple I came to the conclusion that I would need either a mid-range MacBook Pro or an iMac. However either of those options are roughly twice the cost of buying a Dell, HP or other Windows based system and I already have a nice 24″ Samsung display so the iMac was a tough sell. So I opted for a Dell with a higher end i5 processor, a bunch of memory and a beefy video card. This came in a nice slim tower case and all for $700.
Not content to stop there I also bought a solid state hard drive (SSD) from Amazon, in this case an OCZ Vertex 2 120GB model with the idea of using that for the OS and programs and the 1 Terabyte drive that the system came with will be for pictures, video etc…
All of this showed up on my doorstep over the past week and I’ve been going about getting this new system up and running. Just in case, I made a disk image of the stock Dell hard drive should I ever need to roll back to factory configuration, downloaded all the Dell specific NIC, video and chipset drivers, updated the BIOS and then just for kicks I ran the Windows Experience index tool on the system just to see where it was at before and after updating to the much faster SSD. Here’s how the system ran prior to putting in the SSD along with a clean install of Windows to ditch all the Dell add-on software.
So that’s not all that bad really and it booted from powered off to the login prompt in about 30 seconds flat but I think it can do better.
Enter the SSD
After some fiddling with yet another of Dell’s differing methods of mounting hard drives within the case I got the drive installed and was ready to install Windows. Note: if you decide to install an SSD in your own machine, make sure that the BIOS is up to date and that you set the disk to AHCI before you get started with the fresh install.
Installing Windows off a DVD seems so 2007 so I opted for the much quicker installation off of a USB stick. I found a good set of instructions on this over on www.winsupersite.com and after 15 minute worth of waiting around while Windows loaded up on the USB stick I was ready to go. Now I expected this process to be quick based on the much higher read/write speed of the SSD but I was shocked by how quickly this install went. From the time I booted the PC up to the USB stick to the time Windows was installed and I logged in for the first time…eight minutes, forty seven seconds. Yes that’s right 8:47 to fully install Windows 7.
Right off the bat I installed the missing drivers for chipset, NIC and video card then on to Anti-virus. Usually Symantec takes a few minutes to install, this time it was about 45 seconds. Wow. I shut down the system to see what the boot time would look like now with the SSD in place, and the same boot up that had taken 30 seconds was now complete in only 14 seconds. Wow again, I’ve never seen a machine boot that fast. I ran the Windows Experience tool again at this point:
Not to shabby, overall I picked up .1 but that score is determined by the lowest subscore, the thing that really stood out was the disk data transfer rate which jumped up from 5.9 to 7.4.
This machine is just fantastic, I haven’t had a PC this fast since the last one I built way back in 2003 that had a 1.8Ghz AMD processor, a whopping 1GB of RAM (333mhz!) and a DVD burner that I had paid about $200 for that wrote at 4x on disks that cost $1.25 each if you bought in bulk.
Overall I couldn’t be happier with the results of this project, the machine is fast, quiet and easily deals with PhotoShop and anything else I’ve thrown at it. The SSD while an expensive purchase for the size of the drive is totally worth it so far and if this trend continues I’ll probably look at similar upgrades for KMJ and who knows maybe even the old Mac’s we have around the house. The Mini will make a great media center PC but that’s for another time.
What about the network?
I’ve been using a trusty Linksys WRT54G for about six years now loaded up with the some alternate firmware, DD-WRT. It’s been rock solid and until about a year ago was doing it’s job reliably day in and day out. Then out of the blue the wireless started lagging, I first noticed this on the Xbox when games would lag and connections would reset. Then the wireless performance on the laptops started fading. So maybe it’s time for a replacment, but what to buy. Obviously I wanted something with wireless N and also gigabit Ethernet, that narrows it down to well, everything on the market.
Everyones got an opinion on this topic, you can find and equal number of great and lousy reviews for anything out there. So I decided to stick with Linksys/Cisco and went with the latest and greatest E4200.
So far it’s great, the internet is substantially faster on both wired and wireless networks and the power line adapters we’re using for the Xbox which is at the opposite end of the house actually allow the console to connect without having to use the “test xbox live” function every time.
I’ve not delved into the storage options on the router that allow you to connect a USB drive but I think we’ll use that at some point for media sharing between our machine. I’ll post on that later once it’s been setup.
So what’s next?
Next up will be putting in an offsite backup plan to safeguard the data we care about, mostly pictures and some video/music. My current thought is to use Crash Plan for that purpose but I’m not quite there yet. So for now all I can say is everything works substantially better than it did at this time last week and I’ve got a couple months worth of pictures to work on