Big Computer 3 is one year old! - part 1 of 1 2 3 4 5 6

by Mike McNamee Published 01/06/2009

Big Computer 3 is one year old!

Big Computer 3 is one year old this month and we thought it was timely to give you an update on how it is performing. It is a good time to ponder because the hard drives are bulging and something is going to have to be done very soon. It is also the completion of 12 months of hard labour under the yoke of Windows Vista, and still we are ranting about it. To be fair we have stuck with it and have not been forced back to XP or over to Mac (many have!). By the same token, many things are still not functioning and we remain something of a curiosity amongst serious IT professionals. We have yet to visit a professionally managed organisation that has migrated to Vista although we know of a few that have washed their hands with Windows altogether and joined Mrs Editor playing with Linux and Open Office.

In terms of machine performance, Photoshop CS4 64-bit still reopens in 4 seconds and opens from cold in 5.7 seconds, a tiny bit longer perhaps, but hardly noticeable. Windows itself now takes a grinding 3m 10s to start up, whereas it used to take 2m 6s but this is presumably due to additional services that have been added over the year. The 64-bit version of Photoshop remains hugely faster than the 32-bit version

kitchen work surface down the six steps of their back door entrance - it was in several pieces at the bottom! Another vulnerability of laptops is water (aka coffee or tea). If you spill half a pint onto a laptop it is highly likely to stop working; the same catastrophe with a separate keyboard has lesser consequences as you only need to replace/repair the keyboard to get up and running again.

Similar arguments apply to USB or Firewire-connected external hard drives. They are vulnerable to being dropped or stolen. They also suffer from a risk of failure during routine data transfer (tripping over wires, power outages, etc). In our experience this can cause the entire drive to fail to be recognised by Windows. At McNamee Towers we are the proud owners of LaCie Big Drive (aka doorstop) that cost £500 and never did a day's work in its life. It failed during the first testing, was never trusted, failed another attempt a year later and then also failed when the hard drives were replaced - would you commit important data to a device like that, we never did? Our experience with dismountable USB or Firewire hard drives has not been good with Windows, you can run into trouble with things like auto-renaming. The downside of these devices is that, if they fail, you lose the backup from many shoots not just the one you are currently working on. The upside is that they are inexpensive, easy to store and (mainly) easy to use.

It is against this backdrop that computers for mission-critical applications are designed. They also carry the burden of 'availability'. A computer failure when preparing a wedding album is a different type of crisis to a computer failure in the middle of a stock-market transaction or a satellite launch. Availability issues are normally tackled with 'redundancy' so that system failure is barely noticed by the user; this moves us into the territory of RAID systems and remote location of servers.

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1st Published 01/06/2009
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