It's not the greatest computer in the world, but it's mine. An anonymous model cobbled together from various bits left over from other projects, most of it would have been state of the art a couple of years ago — but now it's just a 2.4GHz P4 with 512MB of RAM (which, being Rambus, I cannot afford to upgrade), a graphics card that's good enough for Google Earth and thus good enough full stop, and about 350GB of hard disk.
And now, it's deader than Scotty. I'm used to it being sick — it's a Windows machine, after all, and I've lost count of the number of times some random piece of software has infested the registry with the binary prions that lead to Mad Owner Disease — but this is different. Without warning, the screen instantaneously froze solid in a way that mere software can never quite manage. Flicking the power switch proved only that there was something very badly wrong with either the motherboard or the processor: I might as well have been praying at a cargo cult shrine made of sand and cow dung.
There's not much you can do in this situation. Reseat all the expansion cards, memory and processor, check the power connections… but it's a hot day. I know what the problem's going to be. Still, go through the motions. Charging! Stand clear!
The corpse doesn't even twitch. The CPU fan is working, though, which scotches my number one theory; the last two dead PCs I've had have been due to the failure of this particular quid-fifty part. Still, I carefully dismantle the heatsink assembly in a search for clues.
Aha. Beneath the fan sits a thick, fuzzy ring of dust, blocking the air. The last time I had this problem was on an Austin 1100 when the radiator clogged with oily gunk, leading to persistent boiling and cursing. Without a doubt, the processor has been cooked to perfection. At least my ancient Austin had a red light that came on when things got too hot — an art that appears to have been lost. Short of a regular inspection of the innards of my PC, it's hard to see what could be done to prevent this; that mere dust can bring down the cream of modern technology seems a bit ironic.
Now what? New processor, and carry on? That's simplest. New motherboard? That implies reloading XP, which is never pleasant — or switching to something else, which means such a wholesale investment in faffery that my soul sinks at the prospect.
It's at times like this that I sigh after my fantasy domestic thin client hosted service — a virtual PC sitting on someone else's properly redundant machinery. If my local PC gives up the ghost, then it doesn't really matter what I do to fix it — even if my flat spontaneously combusts, I can be back in business half an hour later at a friend's place.
Still, that ain't happening. It's time to don the spotless breastplate of investigative technical journalism, take up the trusty sword of fearless faith in the future and launch myself into the bold new dual-core future. Steps are underway to obtain and deploy a new mobo with fancy multiminded silicon from Intel, and I shall report on what pleasures and pain result. And I trust the company's involvement in the 'Hot Chips' conference in Stanford next month is no pointer to future immolations on the altar of the almighty watt.