Negotiating the Dreaded PC Upgrade

It’s one of my most dreaded tasks — over cleaning the cat’s litter box and even going to the dentist. But setting up a new PC is a necessary part of digital life when Windows starts popping out C++esque messages that only an IT pro can decipher, the hard disk begins whistling and the sound card turns audio into a low-volume lisp.

To stay ahead of the disaster that was surely around the corner with a failing memory or the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, I went shopping at for a fully-stocked replacement.

Whenever I get a new PC—this time after nearly five years—I go through major anxiety over whether my previous digital world will morph seamlessly into the next. The idea of losing all my articles, personal papers and mostly, photos, turns me into a digital hoarder. I know my photos and documents live in the cloud—OneDrive, Google Docs and the iOS universe—but my old-school side can’t put all my trust in something I can’t touch and feel.

So, I spent a couple of hours, after placing my order, stuffing what I deemed critical—volumes of photos and a good portion of the contents on my hard drive—onto a 128-GB thumb drive as backup. It took longer than it should have as I stopped to peruse old pics. I had forgotten that birthday party, and what was I thinking with that hair?

I barely put a dent in the 128-GB memory stick, which made me chuckle that I spent an extra $30 doubling hard disk capacity to 2 TB. If I decide to become a trendy creator, I’ll have plenty of storage space for my experiments. Maybe I’ll decide to digitize what’s remaining of my CD collection—in paunchy WAV files—just because I can.

When spec’ing out the new desktop, I remembered a former editor who once wrote a column about the power in his new PC like he was ticking off the features of a muscle car: a 25-MHz processor with 4-MB RAM, 5.25-inch floppy drive, 3.5-inch not-so-floppy drive and 110-MB HDD.

He was so proud of his state-of-the art speed machine. His bucket of bolts was close to defunct three years later.

I didn’t even know the clock speed of the Intel processor in my new PC (for comparison’s sake, 2.5 GHz). I don’t even know what to do with all the hard disk space, though with Google starting to charge for high-quality photo storage, maybe I can become a digital landlord and charge rent.

The spec that is really meaningful to me is RAM, and I got 32 GB of it so I can have the St. Louis Cardinals playing on on mute, while laying out something in InDesign and listening to Mary Lou Williams tickle the ivories on Spotify—all with 10 other windows open. I often have a lot going on and don’t want to be slowed down by memory.

After I ordered, Dell managed expectations with a three-week delivery window and then announced a far-sooner-than-expected ship date (the elation associated with this trick has worn off, since so many companies do it now). The company sent me tracking info, which I monitored like a hawk. I can’t say I was thrilled when my PC left El Paso and arrived in Mexico, but all’s well that ends well, even if it did land at Newark Liberty International airport a day late. I’ve done that a few times, too.

The set-up process with the new PC was at once astonishingly seamless and hair-pullingly aggravating. Photos and docs from the thumb drive to the hard drive transferred in a flash. Some of my Google Passwords magically transitioned to the new PC, and my email synced from Microsoft Exchange, populating in Outlook just as it looked in my old PC.

The cloud is a beautiful thing whether I can see it or not.

But just when I was congratulating tech for making the PC switchover idiot-proof, Outlook hiccupped and Adobe threw me a curve. The first day at work with my powerhouse PC, and a Gmail sync issue left several important emails languishing in my Outlook outbox. I only noticed because my inbox hadn’t updated in an hour, a welcome thing but a sure sign of trouble.

Adobe’s InDesign wouldn’t export a layout to Adobe Reader because there was no .pdf-reading software on my computer. My dad coined a word for that—“snivelly”—to describe something denied that wouldn’t have cost the offending party anything. By not including the Reader software for its own design program, Adobe had the opportunity to try to reel me in to Acrobat Pro DC, its $14.99-per-month reader software. Snivelly, indeed.

Unable to complete my task, I had to stop my project, with a stiff deadline, to search for a free version of Acrobat Reader, then download it, and decline another pitch for the $15-a-month sub. The free version I found required that I also download McAfee virus protection for a free trial. Then I had to spend time deleting that so it wouldn’t conflict with my own security software. Deadline missed.

A day later, email seems to be back in working order, Adobe has stopped trying to sell me a subscription and I listened to two Zoom calls and a webcast without having to crank up the volume to distorted levels. It’s looking like the new PC is getting broken in. Here’s hoping it’s a very long time before it breaks down.

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