Finally, I bit the bullet and upgraded my PC. It’s funny, after running with an outdated homebrew PC for several years how much I got used to slow booting and sluggish response.

Just about any website with a Flash applet would drag my old PC to its knees. You would be surprised at how this actually gave me an increase in productivity. Sidetracks into YouTube, or watching movie trailers on RottenTomatoes… forget about it… might as well go back to writing code in my processor non-intensive text editor software.

Well now, no more hanging out with the Slowskys… Behold my new mid-grade PC, the Acer X3400-U2022.

  • Quad Core AMD Athlon II X4 635 / 2.9 GHz
  • NVIDIA GeForce 9200
  • 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333 MHz (Room for 8GB)
  • PCI Express Wifi Card
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Edition
  • 1TB HDD

Not too shabby for ~$550.

This is so much better than what I had before, but it’s still not perfect. The biggest downside of this computer is the dang hard drive! I had the computer powered up for not more than 5 minutes before the hard drive bricked itself. To the drives credit, I only had the power cable plugged in half way, and I gave the computer a bump while Windows 7 was configuring itself leading to a complete unexpected power loss. After properly securing the power cable and starting the system up… nothing… drive was missing/dead/destroyed.

Fortunately, after a short call with Acer they had a new drive in the mail that night. (They put a $150 hold on my credit card, ship the drive, then clear the credit when they received my old drive). Fast forward a few days, I get a new shiny HDD, same model as the last one: WD Caviar Green (WD10EADS). I installed the new drive and hit the power button… nothing. The drive was totally empty, I didn’t have any restore disks and clearly the recovery partition of my first drive was junk.

Another quick call to Acer and my free-of-charge recovery disks were on their way.

In the meantime I decided to start playing around with Linux, Ubuntu being my flavor of choice. I found that sometimes the boot time was super slow, and that the responsiveness of the applications was dismal. So I went into troubleshooting mode: disconnecting all the USB devices (external and internal), removing the Optical Drive, running memory tests, reconfiguring the BIOS, reinstalling the OS, everything! After browsing some Ubuntu forums I finally settled on some software bugs were behind the slow responsiveness of the system.

Finally, my recovery disks come in from Acer. I go through the recovery process, then setup the system to dual boot Ubuntu/Windows7. Low and behold, Windows 7 is just as sporadically slow as Ubuntu! I say sporadically because often the system will boot up in literally seconds and operate with great speed, other times it take 10 minutes to boot and would have total sluggish response when running applications. Analyzing my bootchart I saw that the main holdup was long periods of 100% HDD I/O wait time, while the processors were just sitting idle doing nothing. Sounds like a hard drive problem!

Since I was already 0/2 on HDD’s from Acer, I decided to run out and pick up a new 500GB Seagate Barracuda drive. Now after reinstalling Windows and Ubuntu I have no speed related problems and my machine is a dream to use.

I have some suspicions that the WD Caviar Green, being an eco-friendly drive, was retracting the heads and maybe spinning down at inopportune times. I guess I’ll never know. Hopefully I can exchange this particular drive with Acer, then stick the brand new one up on Ebay at a heavy discount.

All my complaining aside, I’m now happy and moving forward :-). In the next post I’ll point out an obscure trick you need in order to get this computer’s particular wifi card working in Ubuntu.