Posts tagged ‘Atech’


The Singer of desktop PCs

24.02.2019

I never planned to spend quite this much on computers in the first two months of the year.
   The laptop was in dire need of an upgrade, so I had budgeted for it. After getting it, I was impressed, but thought that the desktop PC, which dates from 2012 and upgraded with a Crucial 525 Gbyte SSD just over two years ago, was holding its own. The processor might have been slow, but then, I’m a middle-aged man with reflexes slower than that of a 20-year-old, so I hardly noticed. I thought, best-case scenario, I’d look at an upgrade at the end of 2019.
   Last Wednesday, the PC wouldn’t start properly. I was incredibly lucky as I had backed up all pertinent directories the night before, and only lost a bunch of frequently used scans (which can be re-created) and some text files where I wrote down some drafts. In the grand scheme, this was the least amount of data I had ever lost, and I’m very old-school: I still download emails with a client and burn mailbox archives on to DVD.
   The original diagnosis was a faulty SSD, where the operating system lived. The computer kept booting on to the secondary hard drive, which I used prior to the SSD. The hard drive was cloned in 2016 and became a storage drive, but I never deleted the old OS from it. The plan: get a new SSD and clone it again.
   I took the computer to Atech, where I was a regular visitor anyway. I had even discussed the possibility of buying a PC from them. The boss, Kidd Liang, began cloning the hard drive on to a fresh Samsung SSD, which he believed would be more reliable than the Crucial. But after attempting the process twice, he said there were too many bad sectors on the hard drive for the cloning to be successful. Based on the noise, he deduced something else would bite the dust: either the power supply or the graphics’ card. Nevertheless, he plugged the SSD into the PC—and it was at this point the power supply failed.
   I’ve seen multiple faults like this before—I had one machine in the 2000s die with a motherboard failure, then a CPU one, within 24 hours. Kidd said I was incredibly lucky as someone who had done a major back-up, because I then faced the very real prospect of needing a new desktop PC. I was able to continue working on Wednesday night thanks to my laptop, and when it was plugged in to my big monitor, I finally noticed the speed difference of a modern machine versus my old one. And I liked it.
   Therefore, it was with some excitement I collected my desktop PC from Atech on Saturday morning. I didn’t want to go overboard but at the same time needed to do some future-proofing. Kidd calls it the ‘vintage gaming series’, as he reused my old Cooler Master case and DVD-ROM drive, along with the top fan, but everything else was replaced. It’s like one of those Singer Porsches: old on the outside, new on the inside. My existing Windows licence worked on the new machine. Inside was the Samsung along with a new 2 Tbyte hard drive; the 1 Tbyte I had was also installed, even if it has bad sectors. It’ll be the back-up of the back-up.
   Going with a six-core Ryzen 5 2600 isn’t as impressive as the laptop’s i7-8750H, but once the programs are running I don’t notice much difference (middle age again). There’s an Aorus X470 motherboard, 16 Gbyte of RAM, and instead of going with Geforce, I decided to see how a Sapphire Nitro Plus Radeon RX 580 with 8 Gbyte on the video would be like.
   While everything is more stable and faster, I don’t get a sense of a major leap, probably because of the 2016 SSD upgrade. Nevertheless, it’s given me a fresh start for 2019, with some old software (e.g. Gammadyne Mailer) not having made it on to the new machine. More time-consuming was getting the fonts right: Windows 10 now selects a user directory for some of your fonts and these do not appear in the registry (the trick is to change the permissions of the fonts’ folder, and make sure the fonts are installed for all users). And, once again, the reliability index has gone from 10 to 1 because Windows seems to be allergic to either software or usage. There’s still the odd program that needs to be installed, but as the weekend draws to a close, we’re almost there. The coming week’s going to be a busy one and it’s nice facing it with new tech.
   I have to give Atech public praise, too. When I bought this computer’s predecessor at PB, you could still do a deal with the local manager, and you had the sense you weren’t just a number. Drew and Mark really looked after me. PB has deservedly grown because of its keen pricing and marketing, but as it has done so, you now get the feeling that it’s no longer the friendly, small retailer that it once was, with all of the promo coordinated in Auckland. Kidd at Atech on Cuba Street brings me back to that one-on-one feel: you could talk to the boss and do a deal. Matt, who usually served me at Atech since the Wakefield Street days, did the same. You aren’t just a number here, and it was a pleasure to be able to chat through my exact requirements and have a rig built to my specifications and (meagre, post-laptop-buying) budget.

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Posted in interests, marketing, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 3 Comments »


Farewell, Manhattan: switching to the Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK Cherry MX Brown

10.04.2015

QuickFire TK
The Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK, with white case.

On Tuesday, my Manhattan keyboard, for which I gave a glowing review on Amazon, gave up the ghost. I’m not entirely sure why but through its lifetime, there were two things wrong with it: the first was that regular typing wore off the keys’ markings (not an issue since I touch-type, and they were in Arial, so it was a pleasure to see them gone); and the wiring was conking out, as it would disconnect itself from the USB for about five seconds a day.
   I tend to buy these things based on their practical value, and I’ve gone through my history of finding the right keyboard elsewhere. However, on Tuesday, I found myself needing one pretty quick smart.
   Now, I could have moved another keyboard from one of the less utilized machines, but, faced with the prospect of finishing a book chapter this weekend, I didn’t savour the prospect of typing on a membrane keyboard. Sadly, those are all that are left here, other than the scissor-switch one on my Asus laptop.
   As I headed out to town, there weren’t many alternatives. I looked in the usual places, such as Dick Smith and Noël Leeming, knowing that they wouldn’t have what I sought: a decent keyboard operated on scissor-switches, that was a maximum of 16 inches wide. (I can tolerate maybe an other half-inch on top of that at a pinch.) If anything, I only popped by these stores because they were en route from the Railway Station into town and I was using public transport that day. But, if there was a fluke and there was something that was the equivalent of the dead Manhattan, I probably would have got it.
   To save you clicking through to the old post, I dislike reaching for a mouse (and I’m getting progressively fussier with those, too), and the 16-inch width is something I found I was comfortable with after years of typing. I also need a numeric keypad since I type in European languages, and Windows wants you to use the numeric keypad, unlike Mac.
   I visited Matthew Sew Hoy at Atech Computers on Wakefield Street. He knew my plight because I had told him on previous visits: that’s the beauty of going to a smaller store and getting personal service. He remembered the story instantly. And he had just the thing: a mechanical keyboard for about 10 times the price of the old Manhattan.
   I have long been a fan of the Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK, which suits my requirements to a T. The trouble always was the price: I have seen them go for over NZ$200, and I’ve toyed with bringing one in on a business trip. However, Atech had two, starting from NZ$160.
   Over the years I had eyed the TK with Cherry MX Blue switches: the clicky ones. My Pinterest is full of blue-switch compact keyboards. This was familiar territory to me, and probably most people who are my age and up. Keyboards should make a little click noise as the keys are depressed: that’s the mechanical switch getting activated. This is the reason mechanical keyboards cost more: modern ones, the $20 variety you see at Dick Smith, don’t have individual switches underneath each key. They only have a sheet with a printed circuit and contacts underneath, sending electronic signals to the computer. This makes it wonderful for keyboard manufacturers, who can churn these out at low cost, but the typing experience is less than satisfactory, especially if you type a lot.
   Sadly, and this is a consequence of living in a small country, Matthew only had the TK with Cherry MX Brown switches, which need medium force without returning the satisfying click. However, to use, in terms of the strokes and strength needed, it would be roughly the same. I sampled it at the shop, decided it was worth splashing out, and bought it.
   For such an expensive device, the first one he sold me had a fault. The left shift key and the virgule (slash) both thought they were question marks, and the keyboard had to be returned. Matthew swapped it for the other keyboard, which initially was more expensive, without charging me the difference. I’m now the proud owner of a Cooler Master Quick Fire TK in white, with Cherry MX Brown switches, and it’s not quite the combination I had planned on when spending so much on a keyboard.
   But how is it to use? I’ll admit I still look somewhat enviously on those who bought their TKs abroad and managed to get them with blue switches, but I am definitely faster typing on the new one. And that is a good thing when you need for your typing to keep up with your thoughts. I’ve finished off more emails this week than I had done in a while.
   I am frustrated with the odd typo I make and I wonder if this is to do with the lack of familiarity. Because I touch-type, I am hitting the u and the i together on occasion, or the full stop and comma together, and making similar mistakes, and I don’t recall doing that quite as often on the Manhattan. I’m sure these keyboards differ in their positioning by a millimetre or two, leading to these errors.
   The unit is also higher than the very slim Manhattan, which means my wrists are raised. I haven’t found a position where they are as comfortable as they were with the previous keyboard, and the wrist rest itself is too low relative to the TK to make any difference. That is proving a problem.
   The reason for the height, presumably, is for the feature I don’t need: illuminated keys. I’m not a gamer and I’m not typing in the dark. However, for those who use their TKs for such purposes, I can see how they would be ideal. To fit in the lights beneath, I imagine the designers had to raise the entire keyboard by a few millimetres, making it less comfortable to type on.
   The final negative to the keyboard, and one which I knew I would confront, is how the numeric keypad and the cursor keys are all together. You have to take Num Lock off in order to get the cursor keys to work, much like in the old days of the early IBM PC compatibles. This has slowed me down as I switch between modes.
   In this respect, I have travelled back to when I began using IBM compatibles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, the keyboards were mechanical and the cursor and numeric keypads were all in one lot, and there’s a certain retro charm to this arrangement. Without the clicking noises, it reminds me of the mechanical switches on my first microcomputer: the Commodore 64. I really have gone back to the future, appropriate in a year when Claudia Wells (the original Jennifer Parker before she morphed into Elisabeth Shue) has been Tweeting about Lucire.
   I may be one of the few non-gamers to have invested in a TK, with typing efficiency and practicality as my main aims. When I posted pictures of it on my Instagram, I received plaudits from other serious gamers and geeks with expensive computers, calling me ‘Dude’ and making me feel very welcome as a fellow TK owner. Looking online, the white case is a rare one, so I wound up unwittingly with a keyboard that is slightly more cool than the everyday black one. I sense that Matthew prefers the white one as well, and that I didn’t know how lucky I was (although I am very grateful to him for knocking the price down and giving it to me as a direct replacement).
   Where does this leave me? I have a decent enough keyboard which is efficient for the most part, and from which I can expect a far longer life than the Manhattan (Cooler Master reckons each key is good for 50 million hits, five times longer than on the Manhattan, and ten times longer than on any membrane keyboard). I no longer put up with five-second daily outages. The way the keys are designed, I won’t have to worry about the markings coming off (the glyphs are etched). I have multimedia controls from the function keys, which are a bonus, and one reason I liked the old Genius scissor-switch keyboard that got me on this path to finding the right unit. As I type, I ponder whether I should invest in a higher wrist rest, or whether my seating position needs to change to cope with the higher keyboard. I imagine that as my fingers adjust to the minute differences, I can only get faster with my touch-typing, and I’m looking forward to the efficiency gains. But, there are those Cherry MX Blues on Amazon. The grass might look greener there, but apparently the white case puts me up there with the über-gamers and the cool geeks.

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Posted in business, China, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 4 Comments »