The Scent of a New Computer

Some people think that the scent of a new automobile is the most exhilarating thing around, but I have to think that the scent of brushed aluminum, fresh electronic chips, and computer plastic beats out the automobile category.  At least it does for me.

When you live in a small community, if computer equipment is important to you, it is going to be the FedEx and UPS deliveries that become the mainstay of your excitement.  So it was a few days ago when the squeak of the FedEx trucks brakes and the barking of dogs heralded an afternoon delivery that I had been awaiting for almost two weeks.  The deliveryman struggled to drag a box from the back of his truck to the door where I could sign for it.

"My new computer," I said.

"Come on Man, I deliver computers all the time.  This is too heavy" was his response.

"Sixty-five pounds, " says I, "…that’s without a monitor."

So arrived my MacPro: a two 2.8 GHz Quad Core machine with two Super Drives and one Terabyte drive and one 750 GB drive.  It also had a NVIDIA Graphics Card GeForce 8800 GT 512MB that supports two monitors (more on that in a moment).

The box with the eight 2GB ram chips was already waiting in my studio.  I was used to ram chips that look a bit like overgrown commemorative postage stamps, but these new chips with their heat sinks reminded me of small candy bars—just a bit smaller than a normal Butterfinger®, not the giant size from the movie theatre.

Lugging the 65 lb box up the flight of stairs to the second floor was a one step at a time effort because of the size of the box as well as the weight. But once in the door, that large black and silver box had the place of the honor in the middle of the floor while I got out my Swiss Army knife to cut the tape.

The first cut and peeling back the flaps release that new computer smell that is a combination of ozone and clean aluminum and plastic that seems to permeate high-end electronic gear.  As I said, I like it better than new car smell.

Keyboard, mouse, batteries, instruction manuals and disks sit right in the top of the packing.  It is a wireless Apple Keyboard and wireless Mighty Mouse I had ordered.  But I had to admit right out of the box my mental commitment was to my older wireless keyboard that had a keypad rather than the keypadless newer one.  Not having used the Mighty Mouse I was open to experimentation and the possibility that it might be better than the Kensington I had been using, but I would have to see.

I peel down the plastic on the MacPro and grab it by the lifting handles and pull it out of the packing box and set it on the floor and then peel off the rest of the plastic.  I laid the MacPro on its right side and unlatched the left side and removed the (really quite heavy and solid) side plate and knelt on the floor with the box of 2 GB ram chips in hand.  That box of ram chips was going to represent almost a quarter of the overall cost of the machine configuration after I was finished.

I had ordered the ram chips from Small Dog Computing because I had done business with them before; they had a 10-year no question warranty on the chips, and frankly I like the idea of a business model that incorporates animals into a daily lifestyle.  They do dogs; I do cats, and our cats are definitely members of the family.  One on the other of them spends hours in my lap while I am working on the computer writing, retouching, or sorting images. Another of them also spends the same hours asleep under my computer table at my feet not aware that is what dogs seem to do, not what cats ordinarily do.

The ram chips fit in two trays that normally fit horizontally into the lower bay of the bottom of the computer box, but now with the computer box on its side, the slots are vertical.  I pulled on the first one that has its slots facing down (when the computer is upright) and I removed the one GB chip that was in place. One by one I inserted four of the two GB chips; seating them fully and making sure the clips on the end of each chip were fully engaged.  Then I replaced the tray; that was easy to do because it was now vertical and it was easy to center when it was being inserted.  The manual suggests it be done this way and I had read the manual.

Out comes the bottom tray with its slots facing upright.  I remove the one GB chip that came in the machine and insert four more of the two GB chips.  Again I make sure each seats firmly and the clips engage.  I seat the tray and attach the side plate on the computer box and stand the machine upright. 

I think I am telling this step by step because there is about to come a moment when all is in vain it appears, and I would like to share the dismay and the triumph to follow.

I plugged my 30" Apple HD Cinema Display and my 12" Wacom Cintiq tablet into the graphics card DVI outlets on the back of the MacPro.  A power cord, three USB cables and one Firewire 400 cable all plugged in the appropriate holes in the back, and I was ready to start it up.

Remember that wireless keyboard and mouse?  There they are with batteries in place and their buttons turned on (see, I told you I read the instruction manual; they turn on first when starting up) and I turned on the MacPro.

That beautiful chime followed the "on" button and the screens came up AND THE BLUETOOTH KEYBOARD AND MOUSE REFUSED TO MAKE CONTACT WITH THE COMPUTER. PERIOD!

MORE than a half hour later, after seven new restarts, there was still no contact between the keyboard, mouse, and computer.  The computer just could not "see" the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I had no controls with which to communicate with my MacPro.

My first computer was a Mac SE and I can say that I have owned one of each generation of Mac computers since that time until 2000 when I switched to Mac laptops and then replaced them at eighteen month intervals since then.  I managed a Mac lab of 75 machines without tech support for five years until I retired.  But I now did something I had never done before; I called Apple Tech Support.

A helpful gentleman devoted another hour to me, and actually listened to me as I described my problem.  Our final conclusion was that I somehow had a defective keyboard and mouse and that I should return them for replacement.  So we agreed.

I decided to try one last thing.  My old Apple keyboard and Kensington mouse had been with my laptop downstairs where I sometimes use them.  They are both Bluetooth driven.  I brought them upstairs, turned them on and started the MacPro and each were recognized instantly by the Bluetooth set up controls. I was elated!

I typed in their key code numbers and began to finally play with my new computer and began to install the applications that I intended to run on the new MacPro.  It was not to be a twin to my laptop and was intended to represent a fully different personality and configuration of machine.  I intended to have only image processing and layout and design material on the MacPro.  New and separate versions of Adobe Studio Design Creative Suite Extended and Lightroom meant that I would start with all new software.  Add NeoOffice, mail, and Internet and whatever specialized plug-ins I needed for Photoshop and I would be ready to go.  It was now midnight-thirty; time for bed.  I went with mixed feelings, my new MacPro ran perfectly, but the wireless keyboard and mouse were a disappointment.

All that adding software was to take the better part of the next day; and I didn’t give another thought about packing up the keyboard and mouse to return to Apple.  That was going to be for later.  Then as the day ended, I had the new keyboard and mouse on my desk as I finished installing software and restarted the computer, and the computer ASKED ME WHICH KEYBOARD AND MOUSE I WANTED TO ACTIVATE.  NOW IT COULD "SEE" BOTH SETS.

I was floored.  Now the MacPro could "see" either keyboard or either mouse and wanted to know which ones I preferred.  I still had to key in the key codes for the new Apple wireless keyboard and the Apple Mighty Mouse, which I did, but now all of them were choices.

Figure that one out.  Once the machine was actually activated and running, it could "see" all the Bluetooth devices available.  Apparently, the keyboard and mouse I received with the MacPro were not dysfunctional after all.  Maybe.  I haven’t mailed back the keyboard and mouse yet; this requires some thought.

Remember I had both a 30" Apple HD Cinema Display and the 12" Wacom Cintiq both to hook up to the MacPro?  In mirroring, each display is 1280 x 800 resolution, and in separate display mode the Apple HD Cinema Display is 2560 x 1600 resolution and the Cintiq is 1280 x 800 resolution and is situated on top relative to the Apple HD Cinema Display.  In the latter configuration the Cintiq represents simply a pressure-sensitive pad mapped to the orientation of the AHDCD.  When mirrored, the Cintiq 12WX allows 1024 pressure levels of retouching to be utilized on the same image as seen on the AHDCD screen.  I told you about the Cintiq before; now using it with my MacPro instead of my laptop, it is even better.

Boy, does it all smell good!  I’ll take it over new transportation anytime.  It all depends on what you like the most doesn’t it?


By Dr. Michael N. Roach

Dr. Michael N. Roach is a retired Professor of Art from Stephen F. Austin State University. His 33 year teaching career spans the silver to digital age. His images have been shown throughout the American South, Russia, Ireland and France; some of them are in the permanent collection of the Combes Gallery at The American University of Paris in France. An avid Mac Computer advocate he teaches workshops on digital imaging and courses in Adobe Photoshop as well as digital printing for the Fine Arts.

5 replies on “The Scent of a New Computer”

welcome to the quad world. i’m about to take my one year old quad to eight core (by hacking it myself from a guide i saw on the net!) for not a lot of money – about $600 i guess. it is not an official apple thing of course. but really looking forward to seeing how fast that runs! :)

Congrats on the the new quad!

Congrats Michael! I have to agree – the squeal of the brakes on a delivery truck laden with tech goodies and the smell of a new machine being uncrated are two sensory events I savor as well.

I keep putting off ordering my Mac Pro but I don’t think I can much longer…

[…] Dr. Michael N. Roach created an interesting post today (The Scent of a New Computer).Read a snippet here, but follow the link for the whole thing.… and the barking of dogs heralded an afternoon delivery that I had been awaiting for almost two weeks. The deliveryman struggled to drag a box from the back of his truck to the door where I could sign for it. “My new computer,” I said. […]

[…] Lee Clippard wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptSome people think that the scent of a new automobile is the most exhilarating thing around, but I have to think that the scent of brushed aluminum, fresh electronic chips, and computer plastic beats out the automobile category. … […]

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