Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Prime Geek Speaks

So this post is going to be, in the vein of Monty Python, Something Completely Different. I say that primarily as I am not the me that you have come to know and love, I am The Prime Geek. Yes, I am guest-blogging. Or, after reading this, you might say I am guess-blogging. Sometimes, it’s not far from the truth… And why, you ask, has my shadow fallen upon the pages of Naturally Nerds? Because we made a bit of a change in Casa del Geek-o, and I am primarily responsible for it. Oh, the Nerd has mentioned it, several times actually, but since I’m the one who did it, I get to tell the world. This may or may not be a one-time thing, there may be other times that I lend a literary hand. We’ll just have to see.

A few months ago, the Natural Nerd hollers out from her office “my computer sucks!” At the time, I was enthralled in an episode of Heroes, Stargate, Justice League Unlimited, or Robot Chicken or some such. I believe my exact response was along the lines of “I know” muttered under my breath as I summarily returned to the tube. Loving spouse and uber-geek that I aspire to be, even I cannot wrest The Beast into behaving, and I know this. This does not stop me from being asked to try…

“Can you fix it?” echoes invariably down the stairs.

“OK” I reply. “I’ll get the bullwhip and the stool, you find my top hat.” The wife, however, did not find as much humor in that statement as I did, it would seem.

As near as I could tell, her computer had decided that (a) playing some video files were OK. It liked doing that. Even some web-based streaming videos were good. But others, oh no, others were BAD. Very bad. They would only play with the “G” from “RGB” enabled. Everything looked like Hal Jordan’s home videos. Not good. The Beast also decided (b) that it must have had a headache, because it randomly started muting. Everything. Did I mention randomly? Seen those insipid commercials about cell phones cutting out mid-conversation? Yup. Like that.

Now, in an effort to solve (a) I reinstalled every codec I could think of. No luck. I reinstalled the video driver. No luck. Spare monitor? Yup, no luck there. I even went so far as to replace the video card. You guessed it, no luck. Frustrated, I moved on to (b), thinking I might get lucky there. Again, drivers, codecs and hardware later, I still felt no love from The Beast. As a desperate last-ditch effort to salvage what I could, I backed up all the Nerd’s music, videos, musings and any other document I could find, wiped the hard drive, and reinstalled the OS. I’m willing to bet you can all tell me what happened next; problems (a) and (b) were still present. Constantly getting problems like this at work is why I’m going bald, people. I do not need them at home.

“Hun, it’s time to get a new ‘puter.”

Now, at this point, I feel that I need to stop and explain what you’re going to read next. The Nerd can be a bit… excitable… at times. When faced with something she can’t quite grasp, or doesn’t want to grasp, her brain kicks into overdrive, the turbo spins up, and drops about thirty pounds of boost into the engine that is her brain, in an attempt to gain mental traction. Her vocal processing unit, unfortunately, only came with the standard four-speed gearbox and donut tires. What follows is my meager attempt to put into writing what I think I heard. I’m absolutely certain that I’m only about 60% complete/accurate, but here goes.

“Idon’tneedanewpooter,mypooterisabsolutelyfine,thankyouvermuch.AndmyCOMputerisfineitdoeseverythingIwantittoexceptplayingvideosfromYahoobut itdoesplayfromYouTubeanditdoesmywordprocessingfineanditdoesmyemailfineexeptforwhentheinternethangsanditplaysmymusicmostofthetimeanditputssongsonmymp3playerand…”

At this point, the little tape recorder in my head went “click” and while I am sure that she continued her computer’s capability compendium, I was unable to capture and comprehend any more. Time to switch tapes.

“You’re getting a new computer. I just got a big raise, and it’s time to put that to good use. I’m buying you a new laptop.”



“You’re getting a laptop. You’ll love it.”

“But… But…”

“You. Will. Love. It.”


While I will admit that the discussion was a wee bit more prolonged and drawn out than that, the Nerd eventually did relent to my superior Geek knowledge (BRUHAHAHA!), and let me buy her a laptop. If you’ve been reading this site, you know she grudgingly admits that she loves it. We ended up actually buying a pair of very respectable little Acer’s, with 1.8 GHz AMD Dual Core proc’s, 160 GB HDD’s, built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, and DVD/RW combo drives. Pretty nice units, actually. They came with Vista, and I put 4 GB’s of PC5300 DDR2 RAM in each. It’s the last bit that really makes them stand out. They are truly a desktop replacement. And that brings me to why this story appears on this website.

The Beast ran on a 350 watt power supply. That’s peak rating, mind you. In practice, my Kill-A-Watt tells me that it actually drew a nominal of 260 watts. This is for a piece-o-merde mid-range desktop from about seven years ago. Toss in a CRT monitor and you have another 90 to 120 watts in usage, and a peak draw of up to 400. Throw in a pair of speakers and a printer, and we have an average draw of 430 watts, give or take.

To put that in perspective, that’s more juice than our entire house’s worth of CFL light bulbs. Two or three times over.

Being a geek, I of course have a high-end gaming PC as well. This runs on a 750 watt PSU, and pulls a nominal of 420 watts. I do have a flat panel LCD, so I’m a little better off there, but again, when you toss in al the extras like speakers, printer, external hard drives, and everything else, that PC has a typical draw of almost 750 watts. We’re typical users, and have things running in the background that require time, so these computers are left on nearly 24/7.

That there’s a ton of energy, y’all. In our little slice of the world, we pay $.11/Kilowatt hour. That figures out to be in the neighborhood of $75 a month.

Enter the laptop(s). In addition to its decreased form factor, and all the added desk space that it brings, leaving aside the portability issue (which the Nerd has already touched on) these things come with a 90 watt power supply. Of which they only draw about 60 watts under normal usage. Combined, they cost us just under $5 in electricity each month. That $70 saved each month is over $800 a year. I don’t know about you financially, but that’s a mortgage payment for me right there, with a little extra for good measure.

We currently have about 45 watts of solar electricity production with about 200 Amp hours of storage. Just enough to go camping with, basically. The Nerd has already made some sqwakings about me writing up a rundown on that setup, so look for it here sometime in the future. I’m mentioning this because these laptops could be run off nothing but our own solar production. To be more comfortable, I’d want to double or quadruple our production, to get in the neighborhood of 180-200 watts, so that we could leave them on 24/7 like we do now, but that’s about $1000 in solar panels that I don’t have yet. In a year or so, when you can build solar photo-voltaic for about $1-2/watt, I will be revisiting this idea, as well as expanding on it.

And what happened to The Beast? No, it did not end up in a landfill somewhere. I reformatted it (yet again) and am using it to brush up on my Unix and OpenBSD skillz. It gets run a few hours a week, and spends the rest of its time in the corner under my desk scowling at my toes. I kick it occasionally for good measure, ya know, just to be sure.


Jenna said...

I.. do NOT squawk.

Nor am I as hyperkinetic as portrayed. Illusions to hysterical hamsters aside... pretty good hon.

Okay. Mildly hyper. Only as frantic and frenetic as needed to offset the ponderous pace of my slow moving spouse.

So there.

oonagh said...

yeah hon, you do squawk sometimes....usually paired with caffeine, sugar, or lack of sleep.....or the opposites of the above.......

i do hafta say, it is rather amusing inciting said behavior.....

and hey geek, pretty good for a first blog!

ThePrimeGeek said...

Danke, Oonagh!

And yeah, hyperfrenetic.

Loves ya, babe!

Pagan Blacksmith said...


Glad to see another ubergeek get into the laptop world. The newer models of portable machines are truly becoming desktop replacements. The only bottleneck I have on the laptop is the data transfer speeds of the internal hard drive. I will be replacing that with one of those fancy new 36GB solid state drives, as soon as I can afford one.

As for the power consumption, I love my laptop because of the reduced power issues. I live in an apartment where electric is included in my rent. The landlords are green and good friends of mine, but they have asked I take the solar collector out of the window. This small dual paned solar collector is in the west facing window and grabs about 5 hours of good sunlight a day. This in turn maintains the charge on a 24 volt Diesel tractor battery, sitting on a rubber mat in the bedroom, next to the window. I then run the laptop off of this large battery, when I am at home. It works great. but is considered 'unsightly' by the property owners.

Oh well, it's their bill and our planet. I will have to find another way...


P.S. TPG: know any IT positions in your area I should look into?


goth said...

sounds like some good little systems you have there D. I'm hopeing to upgrade my desktop. going to be going for a AMD duel core. More likely then not, I'll be haveing to get a new tower to get what I want. I will be salvageing what I can from this puter, and then piecing it together as somepoint for the little Woman to use. And I think that after I get a new power supply for the laptop, it will roar to life once more as well.

Anonymous said...

Did the faulty computer have two sound cards or two video cards? A few years back, I had a Windows 2000 (or maybe Win98) computer with two sound cards that crashed a hell of a lot. Near as I could figure it caused some sort of conflict.