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When my fancy PC died, macho man knew the solution, right? Guess again
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule

When my fancy PC died, macho man knew the solution, right? Guess again

Technofile for July 26, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

I got up the other morning to check my mail and found that my PC had silently passed away sometime during the night.

The drives weren't spinning, the screen was dark and the trays to my two CD-ROM drives wouldn't even open. Being both smart and male, I knew exactly what had happened. I mean I thought I knew exactly what had happened. The main hard drive had died.

So I went out and bought a new drive, a much bigger one. I'd been wanting to replace that PC's tired old 1.6-gigabyte main drive (there are two others in the computer, both larger) for more than a year, and my forlorn and silent PC had given me the opportunity I'd been waiting for.

I rushed home and snapped the old drive out and plugged in the new one. Guess what? Being smart and male wasn't enough. The problem, as any 14-year-old could have told me, was the power supply. With all the stuff I've stuck into my PC over the last two and a half years -- a new processor, a new motherboard, three drives, two CD-ROMs, a SCSI card, an awesome video card and two network cards, just to name some of them -- the power supply had decided it was time to bid sayonara.

So there I was with a shiny new hard drive that I didn't need, so of course I brought it back to the store and got a refund, right?

Hey, didn't I tell you I was smart and male? What else would an all-American certified nerd do with an extra new hard drive but put it into his other PC? Normal people take things back. Nutcases like me -- guys who put Network Systems Journal on the little table in the smallest room in the house for easy reading -- see a purchasing mistake as an opportunity.

So my secondary PC, one my wife and I had just bought to handle networking and backup chores, graduated to a new status the same day my main PC died. The new one was much less expensive, but it's faster in every way (300 MHz, using a Pentium II Celeron chip, compared to my dead PC's 233 MHz AMD K6 chip). Even the video performance of the new PC's cheap motherboard-based graphics chip (an ATI Pro 3D), as measured by WinTune 97, tests out marginally quicker than the two-year-old $695 video card in my main PC.

Of course, the new PC has almost none of the software I need to use on a daily basis -- Microsoft Word 97, Microsoft Outlook 98, HomeSite 3.0 (my Web-page editor) and a dozen vital utility programs. So I had to improvise. I am impressed at how well the replacements perform.

To fill in for Microsoft Word 97, I am using WordPad, the word processor that comes free with Windows 95 and Windows 98. The Win 98 version of WordPad can open Word 97 documents, although it can't save them in the same format. (It asks you to save using Word 6 format.)

Because WordPad doesn't have a built-in spelling checker, I got on the Web and grabbed Cetus WordPad, a free replacement for WordPad with a nifty spelling checker included. But I found the Cetus version can't handle Word 97 documents, so I've been using the regular WordPad alongside Spelling Sentry 32, an excellent shareware spelling checker from Wintertree Software. (Download it from

To fill in for my favorite e-mail and personal-management program, Outlook 98, I am using the sturdy (and free) mail and news software from Microsoft, Outlook Express. I'd rather eat cactus than use another Web-page editor than HomeSite, so I downloaded another copy and installed it on the secondary PC. (I'm assuming the folks I bought it from will allow me to use it this way; after all, the PC I installed it on is deep in sleep, so I don't think I'm violating my license by installing it on another PC temporarily.)

This is great fun. It's been a while since I've been forced to use simple techniques to do my complicated tasks. I was reminded that software doesn't have to be fancy to be good.

But I'm starting to miss that big PC already. Anybody have a power supply handy?

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