Fixing Computers

The good – Making music again

The bad – Lost time

The ugly – Money spent


I use multiple older Macs and a PC on a daily basis. One Mac, a (Gigabit Ethernet) G4 500DP running Mac OS X Tiger (10.4.11), is used for email, web browsing, web design/development, graphics design, and other productivity stuff. Oh, and listening to music with iTunes! This Mac has been running faithfully since I bought it new in 2000. It’s had some hardware upgrades along the way—RAM, CD/DVD burner, hard drives, etc. I also use an iBook 1.33 for web browsing.

My Music/Recording Computers
My main music/recording computer is a MDD (Mirror Drive Doors) Mac G4 1.25DP FW400. I run Pro Tools audio recording software, and its associated hardware, on this Mac. I run two versions of Pro Tools software on it—version 5.1.3 booted from Mac OS 9.2 (classic), and version 6.4.1 booted from Mac OS X Panther (10.3.8). I recently installed Mac OS X Leopard (10.5.8) on this Mac, but haven’t made much use of it so far.

I built a PC in 2005 that I also use for music/recording. It runs NI Komplete and other software instruments (i.e., soft synths or virtual instruments). I’m running Windows XP Pro (SP3) on this PC. I originally built it for playing computer games, and to test my websites under Windows using Internet Explorer. I began using it for music/recording when another Mac, a MDD G4 1.42DP FW800, started giving me trouble, and I transferred the NI Komplete software to the PC.

Recently, both of my music/recording computers have experienced failures, bringing my music writing and recording activities to an abrupt halt. Not good!

A Failed Power Supply
The MDD G4 1.25DP FW400 Mac’s power supply started to fail several months ago. Eventually, it got so bad that it wouldn’t even turn on (boot). The power supplies in these MDD Macs are prone to failure, so I wasn’t surprised that it happened to me. I removed the power supply, shipped it off for repairs, then re-installed it once it was returned. All is well now, and the Mac purrs like a kitten once again. Pro Tools is running, and I’m able to record music again. Hurray!

Removing and re-installing the power supply wasn’t very difficult. But I can think of many other things I’d rather spend my time doing—making music would top that list. Total cost: $86 and a few of hours of my time.

Windows Self-destructs
After running (nearly) trouble-free for 7.5 years, Windows XP came crashing down after a bad Microsoft Update. The Update caused a Windows Service called svchost.exe to steal 99% of the CPU’s processing cycles, rendering the computer inoperable. Restoring my system to a state prior to the update, using System Restore, got things back to normal. But the update included what Microsoft touted as “critical security fixes,” so I felt compelled to find a way to install it and fix its unwanted side effects. Mission accomplished, I thought. All was fine, then mysteriously Windows wouldn’t boot. Booting into Safe Mode, I tried to do the System Restore, re-install the update, fix the svchost.exe problem several more times, but the results were the same.

I then tried using the Windows Repair process booted from my Windows XP Pro installation DVD. Well, this was a BIG mistake. When the repair process restarted my PC, Windows couldn’t start up to finish the repair process. I couldn’t even boot into Safe Mode to restore my OS to a point prior to all of this nonsense. My Windows installation had bit the dust forever. The only recourse was a complete re-install of the Windows OS, and all of my apps. What a GIANT pain!

Might As Well Replace The PC’s Boot Drive
The PC’s main (boot) hard drive, where Windows was installed, is the original hard drive that I installed when I built this system in 2005. It’s a Maxtor DiamondMax 10 6B300S0 300GB SATA drive. It’s developed a few bad sectors over the years, so I thought this was a good time to replace it.

Checking the prices on SATA drives, 1TB capacity seems to be the sweet spot for price/capacity. I’ve always liked Segaate HDs, and they have two 1TB SATA drives that meet my requirements—a Constellation ES ST1000NM0011 with a five-year warranty, and a Desktop (formerly Barracuda) 7200.12 ST1000DM003 with a two-year warranty. I searched the Internet for availability and pricing on these two drives. I found that, typically, the Constellation ES costs about twice as much as the Desktop model. One is to assume that the Constellation ES is a better, more robust drive, hence its five-year warranty.

Bait And Switch—Buying From An Amazon Merchant
Much to my amazement, I found the Constellation ES ST1000NM0011 drive on Amazon at a slightly higher price than the Desktop ST1000DM003. The Amazon web page clearly stated that the Constellation ES drive came with a five-year warranty. The item was being sold by an Amazon Merchant, and not directly by Amazon. So I ordered this Constellation ES drive.

A few days later, the package arrived. When I opened the box, the drive WAS NOT a Seagate Constellation ES ST1000NM0011 drive, but an HP-branded drive! The seller’s packing slip clearly identified the drive as a Seagate Constellation ES ST1000NM0011 in BIG BOLD LETTERS, but in small, fine print identified the drive as a “Dual Label Seagate ST1000NM0011 / HP 1000CBZQE – One Year Warranty” under “Comments” at the bottom of the packing slip. The seller clearly misrepresented what they were selling, as the Amazon web page made absolutely no mention of a dual-branded HP drive, or a one-year warranty.

After a complaint was registered with Amazon, the seller refunded the full purchase price, and emailed a return shipping label, and an apology for the confusion. So the only consequences were my lost time, a trip to FedEx for return shipment, some frustration, and a further loss of confidence in buying from an Amazon Merchant.

Time To Order From A Trusted Merchant
I ordered a 1TB Seagate Desktop (formerly Barracuda) 7200.12 ST1000DM003 from Data Memory Systems, a merchant that I’ve previously purchased multiple hard drives, optical drives, and RAM from. As expected, I received the product I ordered in a timely manner. I’ll soon be installing the drive in my PC, and setting it up for use.

A Multiboot Windows/Linux PC
Having a 1TB HD gives me the space to create a system with multiple OS boot options. I’ll be installing two Windows XP Pro partitions—one specifically configured for my audio/music applications, and one for games and whatever else I may do in Windows. I also plan to install a couple versions of the Linux OS—Ubuntu 12.04.3 LTS, and Mint 16.

My first experience with Linux on a desktop computer was running Knoppix from a USB stick on my PC, to recover files from my failed Windows XP installation. I was so impressed with its utility that I decided to research further what current Linux distributions had to offer for desktop computing. Linux has grown up, with nice GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces), and apps for almost any mainstream task you would want. The BIG exception is professional-level audio/music/recording production. That’s OK, since I already have those tasks covered. But I could easily see me using Linux for other things.

I’m a computing enthusiast who enjoys the challenge of new computing experiences. I’m familiar with UNIX/Linux, setting up websites on Linux servers. So the challenge of creating and using a multiboot system should be fun, as long as my music/recording Windows XP Pro installation functions properly.


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