Follow us:

Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 7, 2008 at 10:17 PM

CES 2008: A painful PC race

LAS VEGAS == I love the Tiger Direct PC race, an annual CES event where tech journalists race to build computers that are donated to charities.

But this year it felt like I was back in the Seafair milk carton boat derby on Green Lake, where I raced as a kid. I was so far behind the pack, the support crew came to haul me in. At least this time the “important lesson” I was getting was obvious.

In the PC race, you have to assemble a hot new PC from components and start it up. It then wirelessly logs into a server that keeps track of the rankings.

Tiger Direct, a Florida-based computer retailer that just bought what’s left of CompUSA, sponsors the event along with AMD. We built Vista Ultimate systems on AMD Phenom 9500 processors with 1 terabyte hard-drives and VisionTek Radeon 3850 video cards, connected to Hanns-G 28-inch widescreen monitors.

All the systems will be rebuilt by the company, packaged with a bunch of tech products worth a total of $3,500 apiece and donated to charities. I chose the Seattle Children’s Home, which didn’t stand a chance of getting the first prize bonus of $10,000 cash.

Last year I placed 18th, finishing in 13 minutes and 34 seconds, so I was hoping to at least make the top 15.

Challengers included familiar faces such as pundits Roger Kay and Rob Enderle; PC World’s Steve Bass and The Inquirer’s Charlie Demerjian, last year’s champion. Among the newcomers was Aaron Broder, a 13-year-old Nashville-based reporter for Scholastic Kids Press Corps, who trounced me.

Despite a near Le Mans start, after being stuck in traffic on the way to the event, I was doing fair, holding my place in the Slow-Am class with a few tips from the roaming Tiger Direct helpers. But when I closed the box and powered up, the monitor said no video signal was detected. I wiggled a bunch of things, checking to see that plugs were in tight, and tried again. Still no signal.

When I asked for suggestions, a helper and I focused on the video card. He rearranged a few of the wires and we tried again, but still no signal. Meanwhile the award ceremony began for the top winners — I think first place went to Peter Fung, a Vancouver, B.C. webzine publisher. (UPDATE: Peter was bumped to second for leaving out a few bits and Will Smith of Maximum PC magazine moved into first, followed by Charlie in third; the video’s below).

Finally, we escalated to another helper who taught me the night’s lesson, which is probably PC building 101: When installing PC memory, make sure the memory sticks are firmly seated. I thought I had them in all the way and had locked them with the plastic hold-downs, but one was just a bit loose.

It was double jeopardy. Even after the sticks were in place, the system wouldn’t start because the loose memory led to a CMOS error. The tech explained that sometimes there’s no lasting problem, but other times the goof fools the system into thinking you’re doing something esoteric, like overclocking.

Finally, he unplugged a bunch of the power cables and waited a bit, so the system could reset, and it started up and logged in, 40 minutes and 45 seconds after I started.

I still think it was one of the most fun ways to spend an hour in Vegas.

Here’s Tiger Direct’s video of the race:

[do action=”brightcove-video” videoid=”1370844914″][/do]

Comments

COMMENTS

No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.



The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►