Everything new is old again

AGE OF THE GEEK COLUMN: I don't know why I thought it would be easy. It never is.

Last week I finally pulled the trigger on upgrading my personal computer. Well, at least upgrading the oldest components still in there, the CPU and motherboard. I've replaced most of the parts inside the computer over the last decade, but the processor and the motherboard that connects all those parts together have remained the same until now.

In theory, gradually upgrading your PC is an easy and economic way to keep up to date without buying an entire new computer. Buying a pre-built PC means buying a new case, a new hard drive, graphics card, power supply, and possibly a new keyboard and mouse to go with. I don't need any of those things. I just needed to upgrade my CPU.

Of course, upgrading my CPU means getting a new motherboard to put it in. And since my DDR3 RAM wouldn't work in the new motherboard, 16GB of DDR4 had to be included in the order.

I hoped that would be the end of it.

One would think that the rest would be a simple swap. Take out the old board, plug everything back into the new board, and away you go.

So far, the process has been anything but. It turns out that boot drives can get rather selective about what machines they decide to boot up on. Especially when there's ten years between your old motherboard and your newer one. Installing the new motherboard took a couple hours. Troubleshooting the reasons behind its failure to boot took several more, ultimately resulting in doing the one thing I really wanted to avoid. Wiping my boot drive and starting fresh.

Along with avoiding the cost of buying unnecessary components, the second reason I didn't want to buy an entire new machine was because I didn't want to deal with the headache of starting with a new install of Windows.

On the upside, a fresh install of Windows will probably do more to improve my computer than the new CPU will. It's amazing how fast a PC can boot when it's not bogged down by years of startup programs that have accumulated over time.

It has also given me an excuse to finally update to Windows 10. Not that I don't prefer Windows 7, but Microsoft is making it harder and harder to use modern components and programs without the most recent version of their OS. It's possible to run a modern machine on Windows 7, but at some point it's not going to be worth the effort.

On the downside, re-installing Windows on a computer is a lot like moving into a new house. It can take a day to box up all your stuff and move it inside, but it takes weeks to get everything exactly where it needs to be. My computer operated on a complex eco-system of programs that have been gradually built up over the years to serve my needs. Adobe Premiere is notoriously finicky about which NVIDIA driver you're using and video files need a variety of different codecs to play properly, especially if you're a digital packrat like myself.

Think about all the times you need to download a driver or a codec to make things work over the course of several years. A fresh install means finding and reinstalling all of those things again just to get the computer operating at the same level it was before the "upgrade."

Most of these programs are easy enough to replace. The latest version of Google Chrome, Mozilla Thunderbird, Audacity, and OBS Studio are conveniently available for download.

Other programs are less easy to track down. This column, like most of my work, is written on Microsoft Word 2003, which is the last version of the program that was designed by people who knew what they were doing. Obviously Microsoft doesn't support that version of Word anymore, much less keep it available for download. Fortunately, I keep a copy of the installer around as a back-up for just this kind situation.

Unfortunately, I didn't have such foresight for all my programs. Microsoft long ago stopped supporting "gadgets" as well. It's still possible to use them, even on Windows 10, but tracking down my preferred alarm clock gadget from eight years ago took a lot longer than I wanted. I'm sure that over the next several weeks I'll realize exactly how many other useful tools I've lost to digital oblivion.

Even then, once re-installed, there's still the matter of fine tuning each program, and Windows itself, to my personal tastes. Every option box in every preference setting needs to be clicked or unclicked again. Every custom template or profile needs to be remade. I cannot tell you how many times in the last couple days I've had to Google "How do you turn on/off X Feature in Y Program."

Thankfully, some of these things are now saved in the cloud. As worrying as Google's all-encompassing data collection is from a societal standpoint, I have to admit it's nice that Chrome still knows all of my bookmarked websites and passwords.

There's no doubt that, in the long run, the occasional purging is good for the system. I'm sure that in running a clean install of Windows I got rid of countless programs that I've installed, used once, and forgot about. It's also a good opportunity to re-adjust my settings for an even better experience. But, in the meantime, my next few weeks will probably be spent trying to put everything in my PC back the way I like it.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and while recognizing that change is inevitable, is still not a huge fan of it.