Some things (and people) have had so much work done on them, so many parts replaced, that they become unrecognizable as their former selves. Frankenstein’s monster, reality show star Heidi Montag, comedian Joan Rivers, and my old Stratocaster come to mind…as do computers in the WitmerLab. The latest was a venerable old lab computer that went under the knife recently for not just a face lift, but a tummy tuck, lip job, nose job, chin implant, butt implant, all kinds of augmentation, and a vajazzling to make Jennifer Love Hewitt proud. We thought we’d offer you a front-row seat.
To make a comeback, sometimes a legend needs a makeover
The patient, known as witmer10, was the main workhorse for our 3D visualization guru Ryan Ridgely from 2005 to 2009. Last year Ryan got witmer20, a dual-processor screamer, to allow for some more serious 3D viz work. (Note: our computer naming scheme started when the IT guy put our first machines on the network: witmer1, witmer2, etc.) When witmer10 started to act up recently, it was time to get witmer23 (an even better system) and consider putting witmer10 out to pasture. But witmer10 is kinduva legend in our lab. It’s been involved in some of our best work: Majungasaurus, tyrannosaurs, ankylosaurs, hadrosaurs, Nigersaurus, flamingoes, among many others. It’s been our network hub for file-sharing. Pulling the plug (literally) just didn’t seem right. It was born a Dell Precision 670 with a 64-bit 3.6 GHz Xeon processor, 4 GB of RAM, an nVidia Quadro FX4400 video card. The early 64-bit version of Windows XP was always a bit buggy, but it was a hot machine in 2005…and could be again. It had a good motherboard, chipset, and video card. It just needed a nip here, a tuck there, and augmentation in all the right places.
We can rebuild him. We have the technology.
We ordered the parts we needed: a second processor (to make it dual-processor), two 2 GB memory modules (to bring it to 8 GB), a special memory fan (because when you’re this hot, you need a-coolin’), two brand new hard drives (a 160 GB boot drive and a 1 TB data drive; we trashed the two old drives), two refurbished power supplies (gotta have a spare with refurb parts), two sweet new 22-inch widescreen monitors, and a fresh install of Windows 7 x64. Just over $900 in parts (over a third of which was the high-quality monitors) takes an ugly duckling and transforms it into a swan…if it all works! We assembled our crack surgical team—William Porter, Jason Bourke, and Ashley Morhardt—and set about our task. Heidi Montag had ten procedures in a single day, and we would attempt a similar feat.
Well worth the effort!
Although the overhaul we gave witmer10 is among our most ambitious, we routinely take machines that have lived a good productive life (2-4 years), and replace key parts. We always replace hard drives because they’re cheap and prone to failure after a few years. A clean OS install on new drives means you basically have a minty fresh computer. It’s almost not fair to still call this machine witmer10 given all the work it’s had done on it. Maybe we’ll call it Heidi…maybe not.