Saturday, December 13, 2014

I'm moving to my new computer!! YAY!! A year ago, I had a major hard drive failure on my wonderful older computer, and had to get a new one. Not having a kajillion dollars on hand, I bought an off-the-shelf model from HP. I guess it works fine for what it is, but there were problems. Its RAM was very low, so it had trouble handling video; whenever I accessed a newspaper or site that had streaming video ads, the computer could take a full minute to try to load them. It had trouble with Flash and Shockwave as well, and sometimes my browser would simply hang up because the PC couldn't handle the immense amount of memory required.

The system came with Windows 8, which completely sucks as an operating system. Windows 8 would "go to sleep" on me -- even if I told it not to. Sometimes, the computer wouldn't wake up, and I'd need to do a hard shut-down to get it to respond. Most of the time, it just wouldn't respond. So if I'd not been working at my computer for 10 minutes, and then tried to empty my Trashcan.... Windows 8 would lock up for a full minute while it tried to wake up. Sometimes, it would seem to respond after a minute -- only to lock up again for another minute. Oh gee, then and only then would it allow me to empty the frigging Trashcan!!! Then there was the massive memory-hogging by endless numbers of apps in Windows 8, none of which I used. (I correct myself: I played Windows Mahjong. Which endlessly asked me to log into my Xbox account, even though I don't have one.)

So I upgraded.

Now, I know zilcho-next-to-nothing about PCs. But I bought a solid state drive PC. I talked with a few friends, who said this is the next-big-thing in computing. Solid state drives have been around for decades, but only recently have they gotten big enough and reliable enough to work on PCs. A standard hard drive stores data in little bits of magnetic memory. Physically quite large, a hard drive needs to spin like a record player so that the reading/writing head can access data on the disk. A solid state drive (SSD) has no moving parts. Instead, memory is stored by transistors. The transistor was first invented in the 1920s. Scientists discovered that certain elements (like germanium) reacted oddly to an electric current. Electricity coming on from one contact point punched atomic holes in the germanium, allowing electricity from the second source to flow more freely. This meant that the transistor acted like a gate, essentially turning electricity on and off. Later studies in the 1940s discovered that other elements were one-way gates (field-effect transistors), and even more useful kind of transistor. Transistors remain open/closed even when the power is turned off. They aren't affected by electromagnetism, because the power needs to come in from the contacts. Transistors are very fast, moving at the speed of light. Hard drives are very slow, comparatively, as they need to spin and the head must move across the drive seeking data. (This is why defragmenting a hard drive is critical.)

The big problem with solid state drives is that they degenerate over time. Punching atomic holes in elements degrades them, meaning that the gate can't close as effectively. While an SSD drive is easily written to, removing data tends to leave blocks of transistors non-functional. Constantly writing and removing data destroys it permanently.

Thus, the key to making an SSD computer work is to write executable files only to the SSD. SSD computers invariably come with a 1TB hard drive for your memory files -- those documents, temporary Internet files, downloads, and other things. When you install a program, you have to be sure that the defaults for each and every program store these memory files on the hard drive, not the SSD.

This can be a real bitch.

Executables want to store all files on the same drive where the executable is located. Because Windows doesn't allow you to flick a switch (they thought about it, and decided against it) to accomplish this, you have to do it for every single program. Trust me, it's not easy!! And some programs (like e-readers) lack the functionality to allow you to tell the program where to put downloaded or temp files. Even if you install the executable on the hard drive (D:\), the program will search for your SSD and put downloads and temp files on the SSD (C:\).

Windows itself doesn't know how to redirect everything to the D:\, either. Certain things, like shared files, must remain on the C:\ drive -- even if they take up huge amounts of space on your SSD.

Well, we'll see what happens. My SSD is only 107GB, which is pretty large for an SSD these days. I've already discovered things like RealPlayer, iTunes, Adobe Downloader, and more storing things on my SSD drive and trying to fuck me up.

We'll just have to see what happens from here on out.

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