It's good to talk about it


— 4:27 PM on November 13, 2008

Everyone has moments that they're not proud of, but it's important to acknowledge and learn from them instead of pretending they never happened. It can also be valuable—almost cathartic—to share those moments in order to gain perspective and warn others not to follow in your footsteps. And before I preach any longer, this isn't about the time I crashed dad's car (or that one CES in Las Vegas). No, this post is all about tech confessions. This is TR, after all, not LiveJournal.

With that said, it's time to share. These weren't huge mistakes, but they're certainly moments that I look back on now and wonder, "What was I thinking?!"

Check out these cold cathodes!
Yes, there was once a time when my desktop PC would have been at home in the latest The Fast and the Furious movie. It was the first system I bought and assembled for myself, so I try to remember it as a learning experience. It all started with the case. For $49, I snagged a generic gaming mid-tower complete with front LEDs in every color of the rainbow, room for six 80mm fans, a requisite side window, and a no-name 350W power supply.

I didn't stop there. Once I had my system set up, I of course had to take advantage of that side window to show off my enviable components and cable management prowess. Why put so much effort into picking the parts, assembling the computer, and running cables behind the motherboard if I couldn't show off my handiwork? Only cold cathodes would do. After velcroing a pair of blue cold cathode tubes inside of my case and not being satisfied with the amount of illumination, I set out in search of another solution. Next on the shopping list: blue LED fans. I snagged the six cheapest fans I could find that lit up bright blue, and I set out to mount as many as I could—noise be damned.

When finally completed, my machine had the healthy blue glow of enriched uranium going critical, and it probably sounded like a DC-10 on its final approach. But boy, was I ever proud at LAN parties. Thankfully, my interest in pimping out my PC (at least aesthetically) didn't last long, and I quickly graduated to a much quieter and more subdued Antec 1040BII full tower, which gave me plenty of room for a water cooling setup. But that's another story.

"Upgrading" from a Radeon 9800 Pro to a Geforce FX 5950 Ultra
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I had an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB. It chewed up just about any game that came its way, only took up a single slot (those were the days), and wasn't too terribly loud. Life was good. Unfortunately, having a fast, stable system has never satiated my desire to upgrade before, and this was no exception. Suffice to say I had the opportunity to score a free Nvidia Geforce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB, and I jumped on it. Sure, it was a dual-slot card with higher power consumption than my 9800 Pro, but it was clocked faster and had double the video memory. How could I go wrong?

Without doing much research, I sold the 9800 Pro, slapped the behemoth FX 5950 Ultra into my case, and for a while, life remained good. The FX 5950 Ultra ran most of my games better than the 9800 Pro did, allowing me to crank anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering to levels I hadn't experienced before. My generic power supply subsequently died. I guess the FX 5950 Ultra was the straw that broke the camel's back (I had been experiencing stability issues without knowing why). After a quick trip to PC Club, however, I was back in action.

Then, one of the most anticipated games of the decade came out. Unfortunately for Geforce FX owners, Half-Life 2 was one of the first titles to spotlight the weaknesses of Nvidia's DirectX 9 implementation. As a result, I had to play the best game of the year in DirectX 8 mode, lest I be stuck with visual artifacts and slideshow performance. In fact, for as long as I used the card, I constantly found myself digging through configuration files for games, hunting for switches to enable DirectX 8 rendering paths and get better frame rates. Though the visual differences between DX8 and DX9 weren't that great in most games, they were always enough for me to feel like I was missing out.

Nvidia slowly improved its drivers for the FX series, but it couldn't fix the fundamental flaws of the NV3x GPU family. Still, I somehow managed to stick with the card for over two years, giving the FX 5950 Ultra the longest tenure of any video card I've ever owned. But it's got a challenger: at the rate my aging Geforce 8800 GTX continues to excel in new releases like Left 4 Dead, Fallout 3, Crysis Warhead, and Dead Space, it may well steal that achievement away. Sometimes, I wonder what different upgrade paths I might have taken if I had simply kept the 9800 Pro—but it's pointless speculation now.

I've had numerous other moments in my tech-centric life when I've genuinely screwed up, including leaky water cooling, accidentally damaging components, failed firmware/BIOS flashes, mistakenly formatting memory cards, watching iTunes delete my entire music library, and more that I'm probably forgetting, but those are best saved for the very entertaining boneheaded tech moments thread over in the TR forums. For now, I'll just continue to learn from my mistakes and look forward to reading some of your tech confessions in the comments below.

   
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