George! He’s up in his room tweaking again!

Sheesh. Can’t a donkey have a little privacy? Okay, it might be because I have that sign over my new Dell that says “No Tweaking Zone”. Or it might be because of the sign that hangs under it saying “Anyone caught putting a new hard drive in this machine will be shot on sight.”

Okay, okay, I put those signs there, but lookey here: I’ve got this P4, 2.4 Gigaherzt way over-qualified, screaming machine with 768 megs of RAM. I should be able to open a whole bunch of 20 meg photos in Photoshop without causing any slowdowns. Right? Uh, Wrong. There is indeed a *discernible* slowdown at times.

I didn’t pay for that. Okay, so I figured the problem was a lack of a scratch disk. My old computers all have scratch disks. This one just has one 80 GB disk. Okay, it’s very simple. Yes, despite all my dire premonitions of doom, I’ll add a new hard drive, but DON’T WORRY! It’ll just be a simple little slave drive to sit there and grab my Photoshop scratches. I know, I know, the last time I did this it took several months and there was some shit about upgrading the BIOS and Via chipsets that didn’t have the right drivers. Then there was the LILO boot manager and corrupted partitions…..but we won’t go there. This would be a simple slave drive for a simple scratch disk and we promise we won’t touch anything else.

That’s always how it starts….. So, I go to Newegg and take a gander (just a peek). Hmmmm. I could get a 40 gig scratch disk for about $50. Or….for a few dollars more I could get 120 gigs with an 8 meg disk cache. Hmmmm again. Yes, it’s faster and bigger than my current drive, but that won’t influence me. It’s just a slave drive, but a little bigger than usual. The 8 meg cache means nothing.

Yeah, right.

Okay, long story short and a visit to the Symantec Ghost tutorial pages, there’s no way in hell that I’d put a 120 gig WD 7200 rpm 8 meg cache hard drive as a slave and leave a puny IBM drive as master. That ain’t gonna happen.

As it turns out, Ghost 2003 and the new Western Digital arrived from Fedex at about the same time. Don’t worry, I say, if anything screws up, we’ll just make the new drive the slave and to hell with it. But reading the Ghost manual, it appears they’ve “improved” it so that you can do the whole drive cloning thing from within Windows. Sorry folks, I don’t do anything relating to hard drives from within Windows. So an email to tech support later, I find out that yes, I can do the whole thing from a DOS boot disk like the old versions of Ghost. Fine, I feel much better now.

So, feeling frisky, I stick the new hard drive in the slave position to start. I can’t believe these new Dells. They’re so freakin’ user friendly inside. They have a spankin’ new set of plastic HD rails ready and waiting in the second drive bay. Pop them out, screw them in, and pop them in again. Keep everything set to “cable select”. Put the machine together and boot to the Ghost/DOS boot disk. Ghost comes up and you (carefully) pick the source drive. Then (carefully) pick the destination drive, and hit Clone the disk or something similar. I say “carefully” on picking the source and destination drives, because after you’ve picked them, they both look the same. To put it a little simpler, successfully cloning a blank drive to your data drive because you picked the wrong ones can lead to an insane situation if there are any weapons nearby (and there usually are).

25 minutes later, an exact copy of my old disk is sitting waiting on my new disk. I pop out the old disk, put the new one in the master position, and boot. I’m sure this is where the BIOS starts flashing and the machine makes all these dreadful scratching noises and sits there with the cursor flashing. But no, surprise, surprise. The danged thing boots into XP, just like it always does. Go into Disk Management and sure enough, there’s the new 120 gig drive NTFS formatted, just as pretty as can be.

Okay, I reboot the thing a few times and check all my apps to make sure there aren’t any surprises lurking under the surface. As we all know, there always are. Two hours later, I’m absolutely sure my machine is okay, and I’m starting to feel frisky again. I turn off the machine, stick in the Ghost boot disk and pop in the old drive, this time in the slave position. This is a little nerve-wracking because Symantec has all kinds of dreaded warnings about not booting with two activated disks in the machine. I’m supposed to use GDISK, the Symantec version of FDISK, that can supposedly deal with NTFS partitions. Unfortunately, I’m used to FDISK, and GDISK is nothing like it. Hitting “?” gives me all these arcane command lines with equally arcane switches. After reading a bit, I see that it isn’t quite as bad as it looks and I type in the command that de-activates the old disk. Then, gritting my teeth, I reboot. It all seems to load normally, so I login to Windows and check the Disk Management utility. Both drives are listed correctly, so I gulp a little saliva and hit “partition and format” on the old drive. About 15 minutes later, I’ve got myself one fresh new C: drive with all my stuff on it and a spankin’ new slave drive. I immediately set up my page file (swap) to use both disks and set up Photoshop to use Drive 2 as a scratch drive. So far, so good. And I’m liking Ghost so much that I run it again on my new main drive and save it to a file on Drive 2.

So, did the 8 meg cache really speed things up? Or is it trivial? All my apps seem a bit faster, but that is hard to guage. The ones that are really fast are the graphics apps. One big for instance, I use ACDsee to manage a lot of my photos; I have literally several thousand of them and it’s very hard to find a particular file unless I can view from a bunch of thumbnails in various directories. ACDSee used to kind of scroll-load all the hundreds of thumbnails very slowly, and I figured I could do better if I had a better graphics card. As it turns out, ACDSee now loads several hundred thumbnails instantly, and since it doesn’t have a scratch-disk setting in preferences, I can only attribute it to the 8 meg cache.

It’s three weeks later, and there still haven’t been any dire repurcussions. This is new for me. Life is never this easy. I’m extra vigilant these days. There’s dread out there somewhere, I can just feel it.