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Alan Buys a New Toy

Buying a new computer is turning into an almost annual event in the Robson home. I now own five times as many computers as there are people living in the house (I calculated that statistic on one of the more powerful of the computers). Even the cats have two each, and only last week Milo passed his final exam for his MCSE certification. Ginger hasn’t passed any exams yet; she keeps eating the mice.

It’s scary how much computing power is just floating around the average home these days. Perhaps soon all the common household objects that we take for granted will be more powerful than my (rather ancient) laptop. Even now they give it a good run for its money. My current washing machine can run rings around the 286 desktop I have sitting in the corner of the room. I use the tumble dryer for solving partial differential equations and the fridge for calculating orbital trajectories. I think the fridge is getting bored with having so little to do – it keeps sending me emails complaining that it hasn’t got enough beer, the yoghurt is mouldy and the cleaning woman’s been at the gin again.

I’m seriously thinking of upgrading the old laptop to a digital camera. Don’t laugh – the new generation of digital cameras really do have more memory, more storage space and a faster processor than the laptop I bought only five years ago. Scary thought!

But none of the computers in the house have enough grunt to allow me to play the new game I just bought (even the washing machine isn’t quite powerful enough for that) – hence the decision to let another box into my life.

I went to see Helen, who works at PC Town in Mount Albert, and who knows about these things.

"Sell me a new computer," I hinted.

A gleam of techno-lust entered her eye. There is nothing she likes doing more than building a computer to some outrageous specification and then selling it to somebody.

"How much memory do you want?"

"Errr, ummm 128Mb will probably do," I guessed wildly, doubling the amount in the computer I bought last time.

"RAM is really cheap," she said. "How about 256Mb?"


"It’s really, really, really cheap," she said. "How about 512Mb? Go on – you know you want to. How fast do you want it? Gigahertz processors are very cheap just at present."

"Er, righto."

"Do you want a CD writer? They’re a bargain price at the moment."

"Do I?"

"Yes," she decided. "AMD or Intel CPU?"

I shrugged helplessly and Helen launched into long comparison of the two which left me none the wiser. "You want an AMD," she explained. "They’re much better. And cheaper."

"I agree," I agreed.

"The standard disk is 30Gb – but you can upgrade to 40Gb for only another $40. "

I was punch drunk, and simmering with the beginnings of a technological orgasm. "Gimme the disk," I whispered. "Three-D video," I murmured. "Network card," I groaned. "Modem," I shrieked as the climax hit.

"Really cheap at the moment," Helen said, making notes. She added up all the bits and pieces and quoted a price so reasonable that I almost bought two of everything. But I restrained myself.

"Yes, yes! Oh, yes!"

"Pick it up tomorrow evening," said Helen.

The next evening, on my way home from work, I went round to PC Town. The computer was waiting for me, neatly wrapped up. I took it home, plugged it in and stayed up until the wee small hours.

It had a spiffy blue front (though the rest of the case was the usual boring beige) and it came equipped with far too much memory, far too much disk, a frighteningly fast processor and lots of ancillary gadgets. It was wonderful.

Shortly after midnight, I discovered that when I put a music CD in the drive absolutely no sound emerged from either the speakers or the sub-woofer. (I am unclear as to exactly what function a sub-woofer performs, but Helen assured me that I needed one). Also, around 2.45am I realised that I was toasty warm instead of shivering in the early morning chill. That was when I discovered that the computer appeared to be pumping out rather a lot of therms.

I gave Helen adequate time to wake up, breakfast herself and get to work. Then I rang her. First I explained about the lack of music from the speakers, not to mention the sub-woofer.

"Ah," she said as light dawned. They must have forgotten the sound cable from the CD drive. Bring it down to the shop. I’ll put one in."

Then I mentioned the heat.

"OK – I’ll check that out as well."

When I arrived at the shop, she stripped the machine, put in the missing cable, attached an extra fan and reassembled it. She gave me lots of detailed information about temperature thresholds and urged me to make sure that the machine was adequately ventilated.

"The temperature will go up a bit when you play the 3D games," she said. That sounded reasonable.

I was home within the hour. The extra fan kicked in and I listened to beautiful music at normal temperature and played my games. Occasionally, as the mood took me, I barked at the sub-woofer, but it never barked back.

Over the next few days, Helen researched the heat problem for me and also investigated a small voltage abnormality which the diagnostic software reported. She even took the trouble to return the machine to the suppliers of the motherboard where they tested out the bits and pieces and pronounced them all to be within acceptable tolerance levels. Having gathered the evidence, she rang me and reassured me that all was well – as indeed it has subsequently proved to be. Now that’s what I call service above and beyond the norm.

This infomercial was brought to you by the letters P and C and the keyword Town. You should use them lots.

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