New Year, New Computer

I have been putting it off for almost three years. Over the holidays I bit the bullet, and set up a new computer. It’s faster. Has a bigger CPU. Better graphics. More hard drives. Yay.

The problem with changing your computer system, of course, is migrating everything from one to the other in a way that doesn’t cause heartache or pain, or slow down production. Tricky.

There are as many ways to do this as there are people to tell you you’re doing it wrong. I’ll avoid that debate and just tell you what I did, because it works for me. On the original PC, I went through the Windows folder to see what programs are installed. I like to do this because this folder contains every program that was ever installed, even those that were deleted years ago. This helps ensure I don’t forget an obscure program I may later want, and I can recreate most of those programs on the new PC prior to migration. This saves a lot of downtime.

What I discovered was that there were some programs I would like to revisit, but a larger number I could happily lose, and just keep the core. That will help the new PC run faster. No bloat to slow it down. The new PC was a fresh install on a custom build. I’ll spare you the details.

Transference

I consolidated all the data files and documents from the old PC hard drives on to it’s C: drive, and with a sigh turned the old PC off for the last time. I took that drive and installed it in the new PC, gave it a new drive letter, and booted up. Boom. Instant temporary workstation.

This method provides a safe backup (on the original PC hard drives) while I’m working. Just in case anything gets fried. The configuration data and program settings for every program on the old PC are at my fingertips, should I need them. I can review everything including the system registry files, and work at leisure to recreate my working environment one program and folder at a time.

This seems an unnecessarily complicated method, but this is not my first rodeo. Over the decades I have bought many new computers. I learned the hard way not to take the easy route. Let’s just say I haven’t lost a file since the 80’s and my email archive goes back to the millennium. Not many can say that, though I guess I’m tempting fate saying it.

This manual approach works for me and my OCD, and down the line I know I won’t have the anguished forehead slapping moment experienced by many, that then call GYST for repairs and data recovery.

Anyway…

Because of the prep I did the migration process took an hour one evening. It’s been three weeks since transference. Zero business hours downtime: Priceless.

I have since consolidated all my hard drives and data, set up my backups. All programs I had not preinstalled are now installed and running as I want, including configuration – I cannot exaggerate how good it feels to open a program for the first time and find everything from music playlists to Lightroom presets, watermarks and even recent file histories are exactly where they should be.

Today, no issues having been found and all data migration complete, I reclaimed all that file space on the original PC hard drive. Taking ‘ownership’ I deleted the C:/Windows, Program Files, Users and other protected directories. This gave me one last check point. I like to be cautious with data.

That drive is 2 terabytes in size. I deleted almost half a terabyte of files. Along with all the other drives I have about 5Tb free space now. Room to breathe. Room for the future.

After throwing around all that data between a dozen drives, there was one final step. To empty the recycle bin. I just finished that. It is a sad feeling, watching the files disappear. I felt I was pulling the plug on a friend. We have been together for a long time.

763,127 files taking up 147Gb of space in the Recycle Bin. And that’s not even my personal best. Farewell, old PC. You and I produced some amazing things over the years. You will not be forgotten. Thank you.

This was the end of an era. But as is the way of these things, it’s the start of another. New beginnings.

With a new OS drive installed, the old PC has gone on to a better place, where it can live out its remaining days in peace. It will be productive for years to come and has a new lease of life. That makes me happy.

And I have a new PC to fill with graphics and animations and video, oh my! Onward…

Sometimes, it really isn’t the software.

For the last month my home computer has randomly frozen up. Everything seems to be working OK but the screens just go blank. Everything else was OK. I just couldn’t see anything. Very odd.

Browsing and basic daily use, no problem. I leave my machine on for days, even weeks at a time. This issue only happened when I asked the machine do something graphically intensive, like motion tracking drone footage or rendering 3D. I figured it may be a graphics card issue, probably drivers. Many times, I tweaked and tried again, recreating the same video sequences at least a dozen times and rebooting just as many.

Anyone that has spent time working with a customer service team over the phone to resolve issues is all too familiar with being told there is nothing wrong. Usually after several frustrating hours of checking the basics you already checked before calling them. I chose not to follow this path.

Being an old hand at computers, I didn’t worry, just persevered. In my head I blamed Windows, or Adobe software updates, and waited for bug fix and compatibility releases to come along. Many did. None resolved the issue.

I did notice that this only happened on the oldest of my machines – a fact I put down to this 8 year old machine starting to show its age. Like me.

Bite The Bullet

Today I decided enough was enough. Saving every five minutes was not proving practical, and reboots take time. A lot of time. I’ve been fighting this for too long. So I put my tech head on (I used to build and fix computers for money, ironically) and started going through error logs and troubleshooting and reboots and uninstalling drivers and… well, all the usual stuff. Everything an I.T. guy would normally do. After several head scratching hours I gave up. I could find no clear reason for this. Plan B.

Until I could figure this out I needed a machine I could rely on. I went downstairs to the living room and tried to reconfigure that machine as my main unit. For a couple practical reasons, that didn’t work. So, an hour later, I was back upstairs reconnecting monitors and cables.

I was quite… fraught, by now.

The Fix Is In

As I reconnected cables, one of the video connectors didn’t seem to sit properly. I thought a daughter board may have moved, which could cause the issue. I decided to check the graphics card was still properly seated on the motherboard. Sometimes thermal creep (it’s not a band, it’s a thing, look it up) causes things to move and weird things happen. I popped the side off the computer. And saw the two fans on the graphic card weren’t turning.

I had not noticed their silence, as these friction less fans had not made a noise in more than four years – my computer is almost completely silent. Puzzled, I blew them out with compressed air and started them turning with a flick. All good, they kept running. They weren’t seized.

Then I noticed a drooping cable had somehow come to rest on the dual fans, stopping them turning. A simple cause, with a simple fix: A cable tie. Another blast of compressed air, and I put the side back on.

I am pleased to report everything is working as it should. No further blank screens (yet). I recreated one of those test video sequences and piled on some extra effects just for good measure, and the system stayed stable. I was finally able to complete the project and export. Excellent.

Post Analysis

I believe the graphics card was intermittently overheating when tasked with heavy GPU processing, and like a good graphics card should, it turned itself off before it burned out. Hence, blank screens. This explains the intermittent issue. It happened only when working with graphics apps configured to exclusively use the GPU. And why the rest of the computer continued to chug along happily, even though the screens were blank. Only GPU graphics were affected. Well, those and my sanity.

I will spend tonight stress testing the card to see if it holds up, and whether any permanent damage has been done. Along the way I’m starting to clear the backlog of personal video projects I’ve put off due to this. So far, I’m three projects in and not a problem. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

Why is a self proclaimed tech guy confessing to not fixing this sooner?

Because I know many others go through similar issues, and those issues are often blamed on faulty software. First, I want those people to know: You are not alone. Computers are hard. I’ve been doing this for centuries, and was still caught out by what, in 20/20 hindsight, should have been obvious.

I also want you to know that sometimes it really isn’t the software. Those customer service teams may be right. Sometimes it really is an ID 10T issue.

Onward.

The unseen benefits of Apple Air Pods

I have been an iPhone owner for several years. During those years I have replaced the wired headphones, on average, every three months. Which, apart from being a hidden expense of ownership is also annoying. The phones are great, don’t get me wrong, but things seem to happen to them with a depressing frequency that you could almost set your Apple watch by.

Reasons vary. It is usually wear and tear, or more accurately heavy use. I never take them out. As a result, cables wear and odd behaviour emerges – only one ear bud will work, or the mic stops working. Sometimes the phone starts or rewinds audiobooks. Sometimes it opens apps or sends emails and text messages because Siri thought you were talking to her, when you were in fact yelling playfully imaginative invective at the driver that just cut you off… that can take some explaining. I hear.

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