The Dawn of a New Era, Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what my computing set-up should look like, long-term. Of course, technology and computers are constantly changing, so it’s impossible to plan ahead with complete confidence, but I know a lot more now about computers than I ever have before, so I think I can put together something that will fit the needs of me and of my family for several years to come.

Up until recently, I’ve basically been flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to computing decisions. The first computer I ever bought was a Gateway laptop. I bought it in 2000, and it cost about a thousand bucks. Nowadays, $1000 would buy a beast of a laptop, but back then it got me a laptop that barely ran. Seriously, that thing was a turd, and I have to admit that I wasn’t all that devastated when my mom sat on it and cracked the screen. Of course, it did mean that I’d basically flushed a thousand bucks down the drain, but I had no bills and was making almost $20,000 a year at the time, so I had money to burn.

(Yes I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but remember I had no bills. Literally, none. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot more than I make now as a stay-at-home dad.)

My next laptop was a Dell, and this one lasted me much longer. I bought it about a year later, and it cost me about $2000. I was determined this time to get a laptop had that had some serious horsepower. In retrospect, I think I got a bit ripped off, since it didn’t even have a CD burner at a time when that was just starting to become common, but still, I used that laptop for several years and never regretted getting it.

It wasn’t until 2006 that my wife and I decided to replace our laptops. (She also had bought a Dell laptop before we got married.) We were trying to get pregnant, and we wanted to take digital videos of our new child. That meant that we needed a computer capable of processing and storing these videos. So we went out to Best Buy and basically picked up the first computer we saw that we could afford. We really didn’t much research at all. It was an HP desktop running Windows XP with an AMD Athlon 64 processor, 1 GB of RAM, and a 200 GB hard drive. Not too shabby for the time, but nothing spectacular either.

It worked for the purposes we bought it for, but I became obsessed with making it more powerful. I didn’t really understand graphics cards at the time, and so I bought a video game called The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, thinking that my computer would be able to run it. I was wrong. So I ended up buying another gig of RAM and an ATI Radeon X1300 graphics card so that I could run it. The upgrades did the trick, and I ended up buying a whole bunch of PC games, but a few months later my computer started having trouble booting up. Once it was on, it was fine, but getting it to turn on was pretty difficult. I finally ended up taking it back to Best Buy, and after much poking and prodding, they told me that the graphics card I had installed required more power than my computer could give it.

So I ended up taking out the graphics card and putting aside all of the games I had bought that I could no longer play. I thought about buying a new power source, or a different graphics card that could run with the power source I had. But ultimately I decided that I had learned my lesson about messing with my computer’s innards.

After this I became obsessed with getting a laptop. Partially so I could play PC games again, and partially because I liked the portability aspect. I also wanted my wife to get a netbook, because I hated having to wait for her to get off the computer when I wanted to use it. In 2009, I finally convinced her to buy a little pink Acer netbook, and she loved it. In fact, I loved it too, and I realized that if I got a netbook and an Xbox 360, it would be cheaper than buying a full gaming laptop, but I would still get all the gaming and portability goodness that I wanted. So I bought a Lenovo netbook and an Xbox 360, and I thought I was all set.

At first, we intended to keep the old HP desktop so that we could transfer videos from our Samsung MiniDV camcorder via Firewire. Then we decided to give the HP to my in-laws, and we would just take our camcorder over there anytime we needed to transfer a video. (They live less than half a mile up the road.) Finally, we gave my in-laws the Samsung too, and bought a Flip Ultra HD instead, so that we could simplify and streamline the process of transferring videos from camera to computer.

There are two problems with this. First, these netbooks kind of suck at playing HD video. So we can take videos, and store them, but we can’t easily watch them. Plus, these netbooks have pretty tiny hard drives, so we couldn’t really store a lot either. Eventually we bought a 1 TB external hard drive, so the problem of storing videos was solved. But we still couldn’t easily watch them. I have a Playstation 3, and we can hook up the Flip to that and watch them from the Flip on the HDTV. But once the Flip is full and we take all the videos off of it, obviously we can’t watch those videos from the Flip anymore.

Obviously the setup that we had could only be a temporary thing. After all, what’s the point of having videos if you can’t watch them? I would love to tell you what our solution was, but I’ve run out of space this week. Check back next week for Part 2 of this thrilling saga!

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