And the box went “pop”

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At the weekend my five and a half year-old desktop PC went “Pop!”. Well, I say “Pop” – it actually didn’t do anything at all. This is a dead PC.

Understanding under the covers of a computer is one of the few vaguely manual talents I possess. Box opened, original motherboard battery swapped, fans cleaned… and still nothing. I bought the HP box in 2009 from the former cheap box-shifter Morgan on New Oxford Street. It has never been that great – too small a box for too hot components, it’s spent most of its life with multiple fans whizzing, doing its best to impersonate a 747 at take-off. I figure that the operating heat over the years has at last taken its toll.

This leads to a dilemma – do I replace it, and if so with what?

It’s first best to understand what the thing has been used for, and its context. Our household currently possesses 3 Android smart phones (an old Galaxy II, my wife’s Galaxy III and my own Nexus 5), two Chromebooks (my original Samsung Series Three, and a Acer C720 that these days is my main keyboard-based device), a Nexus 7 tablet and my wife’s work Dell laptop. My main devices, the ones I use by far the most, are the Acer and the Nexus 5 (I’m writing this, as for much of my blogging, using the Nexus and bluetooth keyboard whilst on the train into London).

You can probably see a theme emerging in all of that – a lot of Google devices. Provider diversity is a good thing, and I do fear of over-reliance on one vendor. The PC (running Windows 7) has provided an element of diversity. In the past 18 months its role has been five-fold:

– providing staging and storage for the photos and videos that we take (they then get duplicated into Google + Photos)
– providing the ability to proof documents when clients have specifically asked for Microsoft Office-format documents
– very occasionally using the Reason music software which requires either Windows or Mac
– converting DVDs for the kids into MP4 format using DVD Fab so that we can play them from Hard Disk rather than having to have a DVD player plugged into the TV
– using Skype to conduct (and record) telephone interviews as part of a research project I did over the summer

There are a few options as to what to do next:

1) Nothing.

Photos from the cameras and phones can be shifted up into the Cloud via the Chromebooks and I can live without a local copy. This would be a lot easier if Google introduced the ability to have family albums in Google + Photos – at the moment there is no way by default that one person can share everything with another and vice versa.

I could make do with Office Online for proofing (better in reproduction of formatting and the like, but still short of key editing features only available in the full versions of the products.

I’d have to forgo my use of Reason (I rarely get the time these days anyway), and get a DVD player for the TV. I can still make Skype calls on my phone or tablet – so would just need to find an alternative recording method if I do interviews again in the future.

2) Replace with a new desktop box

This could probably be done for a couple of hundred quid, but wouldn’t address one of my wife’s main concerns – the spaghetti of wiring that seems to breed underneath the desk in our home office. I don’t know where it all comes from, but it is all powerful…

A new Windows box would mean Windows 8.1. That would result in undoubted IT Support load on me (along the lines of “I don’t know how any of this computer works and it’s your fault because you chose it).

A Mac Mini would also have both OS change and wiring problems, and also would mean buying a new version of MS Office and something equivalent to DVDFab if such a thing exists (my Reason licence covers me for Mac).

Linux? Don’t be ridiculous.

A ChromeBox? Doesn’t really address the local storage issue – we need about 1TB for the foreseeable future. I’d also lose Office, Reason & the DVD software.

3) An “all in one” or a laptop

Both would address the cabling issues.

I like the idea of the all-in-one form factor. It’s been around, of course, for ever (look at the photo of the first device I ever used, for example…). There are a few examples around for the £350-£450 mark from Lenovo and Asus. But if I went for an all in one then would I want a touch screen (which would push the prices up accordingly)?

As for laptops, well, same rules apply really. I just think it would be nice to have a bigger-screened device somewhere in the house for use once in a while.

Either of the form factors could be done with Apple kit – but with the additional software plus the Cupertino premium, I just can’t face that route. Apple is God’s way of telling you you have too much disposable income.

4) Network storage

This is where I put much of my effort at the weekend – getting some sort of network-attached storage to act as the local store/staging point for photos. Unfortunately this is a no-go as ChromeOS has no way to connect to a file store other than via HTTP and a browser. For transfer of photos, that’s a nightmare.

And so begins the investigation. Other thoughts most welcomed.

2 thoughts on “And the box went “pop”

  1. An iMac and a copy of Windows 7 running in Bootcamp covers all your bases. It’s elegant, fast, and in 5 years it’ll be running perfectly barring fire, attack by giant lizard, or other disaster. You’ll then have unfettered and reliable access to Chrome, Drive, and all your Google stuff. You can use Handbrake for your DVD rips, or one of many other free utilities.

  2. You could set up FTP on your NAS drive that should allow you to connect via a browser. There are also third party (free) tools you can use to mount SMB (I used a File Manager called ASTRO). Works pretty well for me 🙂

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