The Angel of Death

So I decided last Wednesday to finally retire my aging desktop.  It died a peaceful, natural death.

The rest were not so lucky….

For some time I have wanted to replace my aging desktop + laptop combo with a single portable notebook that could serve double duty as an easy traveller as well as a desktop replacement.  I finally found a machine that met my needs well: the Dell Studio XPS 1340.
xps131_01The Studio XPS 1340 is small, weighing about 5.5 pounds, which makes it nicely portable.  And, in an affordable configuration offered at Best Buy, it sports a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo (1066 MHz FSB), 4 GB RAM, and a 500 GB 7200 RPM hard disk – all of which make it a reasonably strong performer.  It has a nice backlit keyboard, strong metal hinges, a tasteful design with leather accents, and other appointments that seem well thought-out.  And, at $899 from Best Buy, the package was irresistable.  This was the machine for me.

I disassembled my desktop to harvest the data drive out of it and set about getting it ready to eBay, then headed off to pick up my new computer at Best Buy.  Like all new PCs I purchase, my first step when I got it home was to delete the drive partitions and set up Windows sans bloatware.  By the time I had installed Vista (and updates), and Office 2007 (and updates), and Visual Studio 2008 (and updates), and SQL Server (and updates) and other apps, most of my day was gone.  Late that night I inserted a CD-ROM to hear an angry clicking sound from the slot-loaded drive, followed by a diminishing whirring noise.  Yep, the optical drive had failed.

Next day dawned bright and early, as I disappointedly headed back to Best Buy to return the dead machine.  This time I was buttonhooked by the Apple salesman – a slick, knowledgeable gentleman named Bruce.  Bruce wasted no time talking up the MacBook Pro and bashing Dell and Microsoft.  I’ve been saying for years that my next machine might well be a Mac.  It’s no secret that Apple’s building the best hardware out there, and that OSX is the best desktop operating system yet built.  It’s also not lost on me that the virtual machines available to run Windows apps have become robust and powerful, and are strong performers.  After almost an hour of brainwashing from Bruce – as well as the lure of the seductive aluminum lovelies on display – I dropped an additional $1600 and walked out of the store with a MacBook Pro and a copy of VMware Fusion.

It wasn’t 30 minutes before I was truly in love with the Mac (and Leopard).  It does so many things so well.  But 12 hours later – after installing Snow Leopard, Fusion (and updates), Vista (and updates), Office (and updates), et al – I was faced with the ugly truth that however slick and powerful the 2.8 GHz MacBook Pro might be, running Microsoft apps in VMware is still a clumsy and slow way to run a development environment. I’m sure that the MacBook Pro will outrun any Windows notebook when dual-booting Vista natively, but running Vista in a VM is definitely not as fast as running it natively on the 2.4 GHz Dell.  Sorry guys, as a Microsoft development environment, it isn’t as good.  If I could live in MacWorld and rarely use the Windows apps, it would be worth it.  It’s awesome.  But if you live in the Windows world (as I do), the MacBook ends up being a very, very expensive Windows machine.

So, next day.  Back the MacBook went.  I get working on the replacement Dell 1340.  It’s not as slick as the MacBook Pro but it’s pretty sweet.  And I have $1600 back in my pocket.

12 hours later, the thing up and died.  This time, the motherboard.

Bummer.  Another day lost.  That’s three days now that have been spent setting up (and returning) computers.

So, third time’s a charm, right?  Wrong.  That was the last Dell 1340 in all of North Texas.  Maybe all of Texas.

I’m not a deeply religious man, but sometimes I get the idea that God is sending me a clear sign.  Maybe I’m not supposed to have a new computer right this moment.  OK, I get that.

So I decide to go ahead with Plan A (getting rid of the old desktop) but figure I can drop an extra gig of RAM in the old notebook and make it last another year or so.  Plus, I got my hands on a Win7 install and from all i can tell, Win7 outperforms Vista.

So, I fdisk that puppy and install Win7 on it.  Late that night, as the Win7 install is wrapping up, the installer throws errors.  The computer reboots.  CHKDSK is running.  CHKDSK is not happy.  Yep, the hard drive has failed.  Another one bites the dust.  Three down.  Four including the original desktop that died a natural death.

OK.  Now I’m considering a career in home and garden, or perhaps food preparation.

I shake off these thoughts and resolutely turn my mind to positive thinking.  Life hands you lemons?  Make tarte au citron, that’s what I always say.

So I decide to drop the coin for a solid state drive for the notebook.  $300 later, and the notebook is now equipped with the 128 GB SSD from Crucial.  250 MB/sec read, 200 MB/sec write.  Holy Mother of God is this thing fast.  I’ll save that for my next blog post, but I was blown away by the speed.

So Sunday I spent the day reloading Win7 (and updates), installing apps (and updates) — you know the drill.  The computer was super fast now.  I rearranged my desk to be notebook-friendly.  Life is looking good.

Late Sunday night.  No, make that Monday morning.  1:30 AM.  I finish a last set of updates.  The computer reboots.

Why is CHKDSK running?

I think the SSD may be bad…

… I think I’m going to cry now.