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Computer #7 (Powerspec E360; 2008-2013)


Computer #7 was a delightful muscle-bound PowerSpec E360 machine from MicroCenter that arrived in early February 2008. It's a 2.4 GHz Intel Q6600 Core 2 Quad Processor with 4 MB of RAM (originally came with 2 GB, but GB sticks for it were on sale for $14 so I bought two and installed them), two 500GB Hard Drives in a RAID-0 configuration (which merges the two drives into one virtual terabyte drive) and one terabyte drive as a separate drive for a total of 2 terabytes of hard disk storage inside the chassis, a LightScribe CD/DVD-RW, a E360Hauppauge TV Tuner (NTSC/ATSC/QAM), 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet Network, 8-in-1 Media Card Reader, a 430 Watt ATX 12V Power Supply, and Windows Vista Ultimate. It initially came with an Nvidia GeForce 8500 GT Video Card with 512MB Video Memory, but in early December 2009, it died (read all about it here), and it turned out that the motherboard was the culprit and it took my video card with it, so when the motherboard was replaced I also had the 8500 GT replaced with an Nvidia GeForce 8400 GS Video Card with 512MB Video Memory; almost a one-for-one replacement. Later (Feb 2010) the dedicated fan for the CPU heat-sink died, and the BIOS kindly told me that the next time I booted the machine, so a quick trip to MicroCenter got me an exact replacement fan and heat-sink for all of $10. The machine is back to its screaming self.

Hooked up to this machine was a new HP Scanjet G4010 flatbed scanner (replacing the SCSI-based ScanJet 4P), a USB 2.0-based Dazzle DVC 150 video digitizing device which hardly ever gets used because of the Hauppauge card and its inputs, two external 250 GB hard drives (one for photos and one for MP3 music), and an EZ-Dock raw SATA Drive USB docking station that lets me switch between two TB drives for backup and a 1.5 TB drive for video archive. All I have to do is power down the drive, pull the warm drive out of the dock, put the cold drive into the dock, and fire it back up. So I have 2 TB of always-online storage inside the chassis, 3.5 TB of swappable storage via the EZ-Dock, and 1/2 TB in external hard drives. That's 6 TB of instant or quick access storage.

 

Acquiring a New Computer

The saga to replace computer #6 with a new machine was an interesting journey. It all started on the 27th of December 2007, when I placed an order for a PowerSpec G350 machine (Intel Q6600 Quad Core processor, 3 GB RAM, 1 TB disk space, NVidia GeForce 8500 GT display board with 512 MB display RAM, Windows Vista Ultimate, two LightScribe DVD/CD burners, etc. etc. etc., AND the ability to “downgrade” from Windows Vista to Windows XP if wanted) from MicroCenter online. The machine was projected to be delivered 2 weeks later.

On the 26th of January, 2008, an email was received saying that the machine had been on backorder for 30 days, so the order was being cancelled. Company policy is to cancel any order that hadn’t shipped within 30 days. I hopped back online and saw that the machine was still listed as being available for purchase, along with the slightly cheaper one (the E360) with the same processor, 2GB RAM and only one CD/DVD burner, so I replied to the email telling them what I found online and suggested that I’d just re-order the same thing. They responded by pulling those two machines from the web site within a matter of minutes.

Since those two machines had the configuration I most desired (quad core processor, Windows Vista Ultimate, 2 or more GB RAM, industrial-strength video display, etc.) at an amazingly low price, I was intent on buying one of them or something like it.

I checked the MicroCenter web site periodically, and early in the morning on the 4th of February, the E360 machine reappeared on the web site, so I ordered it. Later that day (about 4 pm) an email arrived, once again telling me that the order had been cancelled, and the possible reasons given were either 1) out of stock, or 2) credit card problems. I knew the credit card was fine, so I called the 800 support phone number to see what their reason was. I was told that both the E360 and G350 had been discontinued and would no longer be available. I asked the service guy if he could tell me if the MicroCenter store in Cambridge MA had any E360’s in stock. He told me that yes, they did have them in stock, but he couldn’t say how many. I called the store directly, and was told that they had three in stock.

A trip to the store after dinner revealed that one machine had been sold already, and the two remaining were the display model and an “open box” return. The open box return machine had been certified as okay, and the only things supposedly missing were the wireless keyboard, and wireless mouse. Neither of those two items were of interest to me (I use most of my machines through a KVM switch [KVM = Keyboard, Video, Mouse], and the keyboard and trackball are working fine), so I negotiated a discounted price for the machine because of the missing items.

Once home, I unboxed the machine and opened the case to install the extra RAM (two 1-GB DIMMs) to bring the total RAM up to 4 GB (only 3.4 GB usable by 32-bit Windows), then I hooked it up to the KVM switch and fired it up. It booted into a pristine new install of Window XP - not what I wanted. I did some research and found that the recovery system was stored on a locked hidden partition named RECOVERY, so I tried (2-3 times) using the system recovery tool to wipe XP and install Vista. No luck; no matter what I tried, the only OS available for restore was XP.

The next morning, I called the MicroCenter 800 Tech Support line to ask how to get to Vista, and the support tech told me that only XP was on the hidden partition, the Vista install was on the DVD disk that came with the machine. WHAT DVD disk? I didn’t get a DVD disk. So… the “open box” system was missing more than a keyboard and a mouse!

After that I called the MicroCenter store to talk to the manager to see if I could get a copy of the DVD disk that was supposed to come with the machine. He went on a hunt for it, but could not find the disk either from my machine, or from the display machine. To compensate, he gave me a clean new copy of Vista Ultimate from his store stock.

I installed Vista that evening, and it all went well. Of course the clean new copy of Vista didn’t come with any of the specialized drivers for the display board or the TV tuner that came in the machine, so I had to hunt those drivers down and install them separately, but that was pretty easy over the internet.

I tried the included Windows Easy Transfer utility that comes with Vista (an updated version of the tool that came with XP). I had never tried that tool, preferring in the past to reinstall all my applications manually, and move my data manually. I was curious as to what exactly would get transferred, and how. I figured that it was a good time to try the tool, for if it didn’t work to my satisfaction, I could re-install Vista and start from scratch again without losing much effort. It ran for over 60 hours! Up to eight of those hours were wasted because a user-interaction-required question window popped up at some point during the work-day, after I had started the tool and left for work, so I was not able to respond to the question until I got home that night.

It finally finished up, and initially all looked well. The data (~400 GB) got moved, and my Outlook (not Outlook Express) email, settings and contacts were transferred, but the email address book in Outlook was empty. No problem, I’ll go into the contact list and set the properties for each contact list to be used as an address book… wait a minute… that option is grayed out on all my contact lists! I poked and prodded but could not get any address books to appear in Outlook. So I posed a question on the configuration forum on the Microsoft Office Online web site, and got a quick reply for the (non-Microsoft-employee) forum administrator:

My Post:

I used the Window Easy Transfer tool in Vista Ultimate (after installing Office Pro 2007) to move my files and settings from my old XP machine to my new Vista machine. All my Outlook settings transferred and were established, BUT... none of my contact lists are in my address book, and the properties option to use contact lists as address books is unchecked, and grayed out so I cannot check it! Address book services is loaded.

The reply was:

You should never use WET with Outlook. It creates an Outlook profile that is corrupt. Create a new Outlook profile. Use a valid method to migrate your data. While you are at it, open a support incident with Microsoft. They created and have not addressed or even acknowledged this problem. They should be embarrassed.

I tried the suggestion – didn’t work. Continuing the Windows Easy Transfer quest over the weekend, lots of tweaking and poking had no effect, but one last experiment finally worked. I shut down Outlook completely, then popped open the Control Panel, and in “classic” mode I fired up the “Mail” tool, which among other things manages Microsoft Outlook profiles without firing up Outlook. I deleted the profile I had, and created a new one, setting up the email settings manually, and linking to the existing PST file from the old machine. Works perfectly now.

Lessons learned about Windows Easy Transfer tool in Vista – 1) It took forever (>60 hours) for me, but I suspect that it was because I asked it to move data from two drives; and 2) the “transfer of files” portion is very handy, and the user account settings moves favorites and other parts nicely, but the transfer of Outlook data doesn’t work. Right now, I feel it is worth the hassle, as long as the fix is known. Repairing the damage done in Outlook takes about 5 minutes, once you know how to do it.

I encountered only one program that was “iffy” under Vista (The Master Genealogist v7). It needed tweaking of the “run” rules (right-click on PROPERTIES on the program icon) to be able to run cleanly. I set it to run with Admin rights, and it seemed to be fine.

 

 

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