Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Fresh Iron

February 2005

By Mike Gould

Every once in a while I follow my own advice. You may recall that a while back I wrote about the built-in obsolescence of that computer on/under your desk, and advised setting aside a bit of money each month for its eventual replacement. I actually managed to do this last year, sort of like a Christmas Club account at a local bank, and was able to give myself the gift of computing in the form of a new Mac G5 at year's end. I was planning to do so in the first of this year, but got it sooner for tax purposes. (You can view my previous article about this at: http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.46.shtml).

Depreciation
Nothing depreciates faster than computers. The minute you take your new byte-box out of its carton, a newer, faster, cheaper model will be introduced. So why bother upgrading at all? Because you end up with more capabilities, a machine that gets your work done faster, and most importantly, bragging rights that you have the latest and greatest box on the block. Until next week when the new, improved, and less expensive models are introduced.

The speed issue is what brought me around. I had been using a dual-processor 1Ghz G4, which was showing its age in the time it took to process my photographs in Photoshop. There was also the issue that the clients in my Mac support business were starting to upgrade, and I needed to familiarize myself with the new "iron" (as we geeks refer to hardware, usually in the context of "big iron" = mainframe or top of the line computer). In my case it is "Big Aluminum", as the G5 computer case is made of perforated aluminum with big handles on top, sort of resembling a cheese grater when viewed head-on. Plus I have to be using a more powerful Mac than my clients or I will lose major face.

New Iron vs. Old
The first issue that raises it cybernetic head when moving up in the computer world is compatibility: the new box has to talk to the old stuff that was hanging off of the old box. This can include printers, scanners, network connections, monitors, keyboards, mice, extra RAM, external hard drives, etc. In my case, I have a lot of etc., so some adjustments were in order.

Note: your system is almost certainly not as complicated as mine, so you will face fewer problems in updating. The point is that new stuff may need help in working with old stuff. The following will give you an idea of some of the issues involved.

I had 1.5G of extra RAM chips in my old computer - move that to the new one? Nope, the faster box needs faster RAM, so I ordered chips with my new computer to bring it to 2G. You probably don't need this much for everyday biz computing (unless your spreadsheets are in the AAA column range) but us graphics folks need all the RAM we can afford.

I had 2 extra hard drives in my old box - move them to the new one? Nope, they are the older ATA type and the new computer uses SATA (Serial ATA). So I bought an external hard drive container that houses the 2 drives and attaches to the computer via FireWire 800. The drives are set up with the existing 180G internal drive containing the system and applications, and the externals contain all my video files on one and everything else on the other.

I had 3 monitors attached to the G4 - move them to the G5? Sorta. The existing AGP video card in the G4 supported 2 monitors (as does the existing card in the G5) and I had a PCI card for the third. That PCI card required 5 volts and the new PCI standard is 3 volts, so I had to buy a new-fangled PCI card ($90). Most folks won't have any problem keeping their video set up with new iron. But it is nice to upgrade to a newer monitor, especially if you are going from an old blurry space-hogging CRT to a nice new, crispy, svelte LCD monitor.

Because my old G4 was only around 3 years old, everything else in the peripheral department was plug and play: USB, FireWire, Ethernet, Microsoft Wireless Intellimouse 2 (highly recommended - Microsoft makes great hardware), and audio out to my external amp/speakers worked just fine.

Reaching Out
If you are on a network, your IT person will probably need to configure your LAN settings so you can stay connected. If you don't have an IT person or are your own IT, you may have to tweak things so your router/cable modem/whatever will see the new member of the club. If this is baffling, you can hire a local guru (such as me, if you have a Mac) to come over and get things going. Several local computer stores have "Geek Squads" of trained techies who specialize in this.

Data Details
The final and most important part of the upgrade is to get your data and settings to your new environs. On the Mac, this is easy: each new Mac comes with a utility that automatically moves all your data and settings from old to new boxes, putting everything neatly away where it belongs. Your old Mac has to have native FireWire (later G3s and above) for this to work. If you are moving from an older Mac, you may have to use the same techniques PC users use, as below. (There is also a piece of third-party software that migrates data from PCs to Macs, for those fleeing the insecurity that is Windows, but that is another article.)

This is a bit more complicated on the PC; you have to back up everything to an external drive or server, and then download it to your new box. There is a Files and Settings Transfer Wizard in Windows XP, but I'm told it doesn't work very well so few people use it. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). You can also put both new and old machines on a network and transfer the files via file sharing. You should re-install your programs fresh on the new machine as well.

Once all the conniptions are past, you are ready to enjoy your new-found speed and features, secure in the knowledge that you have the coolest computer around. Until next week.

Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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