Not so long ago, I woke up in the morning to find my computer had rebooted. Well, sort of rebooted. It was stuck at the “Please Wait” startup screen. Multiple retries at rebooting failed. Since I couldn’t find Safe Mode in Windows 8, I used whatever it was that was offered, some kind of system restore (sounds like a consumer-friendly version of the old Windows NT “Last Known Good” startup). Nothing worked.
In cases like this, I keep a USB drive with Ubuntu on it so I can get to some disk utilities. And in utilizing these, the SMART info on the drive showed bad sectors. No sense in messing around any further, it was reinstall time on a new hard drive. But why not take the opportunity to do an upgrade?
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had to shop for hardware. My computer was 5 years old and I had purchased it not so much for the technical specs but for my budget at the time. This time, I would still be on a specific budget, but I would be purchasing for specific features. For example, I wanted more USB ports, more PCI slots, and a case that could hold more than a couple hard drives.
When I went to CompUSA, I was met with lots of choices. In this situation, I did something I rarely do – I relied on salesperson assistance. It was much more pleasant than I expected. The salesperson left me to myself and fighting the feeling of being overwhelmed, I stayed in the store for an hour, reading and comparing each motherboard, then comparing each tower case’s features. In the end, I got my new hard drive, case, motherboard, processor, and RAM for about $430. An upgrade from a dual-core, 4GB system to an 8-core, 16GB system.
Building the system was a nostalgic experience, since I hadn’t assembled a computer in probably 12 years. It all went smoothly and my system was up and running right away. It’s been working like a champ for a couple weeks now.
Last night, I decided to install some music software and try out how this speedy new system would handle it. I was concerned that my motherboard’s built-in sound card wouldn’t be able to handle the VST instruments, since I had previously used a semi-pro sound card, the Yamaha SW-1000. The SW-1000’s ASIO latency was something like 10ms, which was barely noticeable when recording VST instruments.
I installed Cubase and immediately checked the ASIO settings. The DirectX ASIO driver had 200ms latency. No good. Cubase also installed a generic ASIO driver. That one provided 20ms latency. I wasn’t sure if that was sufficient, so I did a quick search. I guess it’s not that great. Then I decided to install ASIO4ALL, a freeware ASIO driver. Selecting ASIO4ALL in Cubase showed a latency of 0ms. That’s right, zero milliseconds.
Doubtful, I loaded up a VST instrument and tested it out. Yup, everything was instantaneous. I am not usually noticeably surprised by technology, just pretty much at a “that’s cool” reaction. This time I was stunned that software was doing a job that my old hardware couldn’t even match, performance-wise. Granted, it was exploiting the power of my 8-core processor, but even then, my processor usage was minimal during all my tests.
I wonder if I had done incremental upgrades along the way that I wouldn’t have been as impressed. Somewhat unexpectedly, it felt good to be humbled by technological progress. I would have expected the feeling to remind me that I’m old. Maybe if it happened to someone else, I might have thought that, so I would forgive you if you are just smirking and thinking “good job, old man.”