Five trillion bits flying in loose formation

Publication date: 28 April 2011
Originally published 2010 in Atomic: Maximum Power Computing
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


I have a confession to make:

I have never had a PC that worked properly.

Sometimes I wonder whether anybody in the world has ever had a Windows PC that worked 100% correctly.

I'm not talking about your great-uncle's Packard Bell with 31 toolbars crusting up Internet Explorer 5 and a thriving colony of spyware that sacrifices files to BonziBuddy five times a day.

I'm also not talking about PCs that belong to people who see no reason to turn the computer off while upgrading the video card.

I'm talking about every darn PC. Even the one next to Bill Gates' Throne of Misery.

My current computer's generally great. But whenever you reboot it, it POST beeps, then reboots itself and POST beeps again, and then one more time for luck. Then, it goes on to boot perfectly normally.

I presume this has something to do with the motherboard's backup-BIOS feature. Perhaps I could cure it with a BIOS update. I hardly ever reboot the computer, though, so I don't really care.

I did really care when this computer got a dose of what may by now be officially called The Windows 7 "Not Responding" Problem, in which the hard-drive light locks on for some time whenever you open a new folder window, and the computer becomes almost totally unresponsive if you open another such window before the last batch of flogging concludes.

I lived with that for some time before, in brief, creating a new user profile to replace my mysteriously corrupt old one. The Not Responding Problem didn't mind me playing games, so it and I lived in an uneasy state of détente for some weeks.

Oh, and don't you try plugging a USB audio device into this computer! Whether connected to the built-in USB ports or the add-on USB card, any RF interference greater than that caused by a kitten walking across nylon carpet and then looking at a doorknob will cause any USB audio device to go silent until unplugged and replugged. Or - in the case of one very fancy audiophile USB headphone amplifier I've tried - explode into a storm of deafening noise, I think caused by bit-slippage giving the most-significant-bit's job to another, less significant and much less responsible, bit.

(I've gone back to the integrated audio. It works fine. But it was better before I updated the drivers to try to cure the Not Responding Problem.)

I've always had white-box clone PCs, running whatever version of Windows was least dangerous to itself and others at the time. I can't remember one of the buggers that worked entirely right. They all worked well enough; only a couple have ever had ongoing problems that really annoyed me. Which is a pretty good record when compared with, say, cars. But still.

Brand-name PCs generally have less personality than clones, because their Windows install and apps are (meant to be...) tailored precisely to their hardware. And they usually remain like this, provided you make sure to never install anything at all. And avoid using the computer, unless it's an emergency. Until that awesome brand-name hardware starts flaking out, of course.

The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that Windows sucks.

This conclusion is partially correct. There are many things about Windows PCs that definitely do meet the ISO standard for suckage. A lot of those things are actually the fault of third-party hardware, drivers and apps that only work at all because of the shimming efforts of long-suffering Microsoft coders, but the suckage remains.

(I can feel the smugness radiating from you Mac users. Apple has a death-grip on their hardware and a smaller application base, and the result is a much smoother ride for Mac OS users, provided they don't start using the Terminal when drunk. And Linux covers the whole spectrum, from shake-and-bake LiveCDs to good old compile-it-yourself traditionalism.)

Soon, in the sweet bye and bye, everybody will have a computer that Just Bloody Works, all the time.

While I'm waiting, I've decided to think about Macs as Toyota Camrys, and Windows PCs as English sports cars.

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