When Bargains Turn Bad


There are so many bargains out there now, but sometimes they cost more than you bargained for. Case in point: Fry's had 250G hard drives for $70 after rebates, which I couldn't resist. I drove down there one Friday, then spent Friday night putting the drive into my server. And Saturday for a few hours too.

When I built my server a couple of years ago I spent ages trying to find the ideal case: it had to be rack-mounted, black, not butt-ugly, with lots of room for expansion. Fast forward two years and I open the thing up to add the drive, when I realize it already has 4 drives in it. There is an empty slot for another drive, but the IDE cable won't reach. Plus I had to upgrade the BIOS to get past the 137G limit. You can't get gigantic IDE cables at 11:30pm on a Friday even in Seattle, so I had to sleep. Next morning I got a long cable but it wasn't quite long enough, I had to rearrange three of the five drives in the case. So far, the bargain was $70 + $5 for a cable, plus four or so hours of my time. Still pretty good.

I don't often open the server not just because it is the most important box on my network, but because it is a royal PITA to get it out of the Avrack in the media room. While it was open I decided to inventory it, which I hadn't done before, and I noticed that two of the four RAM sockets were empty. Its been happy with 256M since it was created (it runs Windows 2000 Server), but I figured that at some point it will need more.

Back to the store and ask for RAM. I can't remember the RAM specifics, but I do know the motherboard (Asus P4T) so they look it up for me and literally laugh in my face. I need RAMBUS RAM, which they don't sell. And they smirk about it as they suggest eBay. Turns out I made a poor choice of motherbaords, as RAMBUS RAM got killed not long after I bought my motherboard. Ah well, never mind. Instead I'll upgrade my main desktop PC (an HP 7970 Pavilion). I dig out the specs for that, and DAMMIT it takes RAMBUS RAM too. I must have thought RAMBUS RAM was a great idea. Sadly no-one else seems to have.

As its going to be a while before I replace either machine, I decide that while it remains available I should treat both boxes to more RAM. The longer I leave it, the more expensive it will get, so I lay out $99 a stick for 256M of RAM, two sticks for each box. My bargain is now $471, though to be fair I do have some more RAM now.

If I'd have resisted the hard drive bargain, I would never have thought to upgrade the server, which never would have caused me to discover my pending RAM problem, and I would never have though of upgrading either machine. Ah well.

Comments (13)

  1. Greg says:

    Went through the same RAMBUS ordeal a couple years ago on my main desktop. It’s a dual P3 Intel board. After special ordering the RAMBUS memory only to have it not work I downloaded and read the doc from Intel and learned that not only did I need RAMBUS, but I have an early hardware rev of my motherboard which needs a specific serial number range! Had to track down a distributor and bought enough to max out the board while I still could. Of course, that was only 1GB. The box still runs great though and I can’t bring myself to retire it.

  2. Eric Wilson says:

    Article Summary: Ignorance is bliss:)

  3. russ says:

    have you been living under a rock or something?

    RAMUS was on the JDEC comittee designing DDR ram, but was secretly submitting their own designs in an effort to submarine DDR makers with patent claims.

    As if that weren’t enough, Intel signed on with RAMUS. In exchange for huge stock options and lots of cash Intel agreed to make RAMUS the ONLY memory type available for the P4 (in some circles we call that collusion).

    When it became public, people were outraged. Intel backpedalled and started delivering DDR-based P4 boards, and RAMUS was sued by several RAM makers and the FTC, and in turn also sued several RAM makers trying to claim their patent royalties.

    Frankly, I still won’t buy another Intel product under any circumstances; they attempted to use their influence (illegally in my opinion) to force the market into accepting RAMUS memory so that the company’s stock would increase in value, thus making Intel money on the side.

    In short, RAMUS is evil, Intel is stupid, and DDR rules the day. The real key is that no one thought DDR would scale to DDR-400 and beyond, so people were open to other memory technologies.

    So I ask again: have you been living under a rock????

  4. Andy Maggs says:

    I purchased 2 bargain 160GB HDD’s to install in my PC for £130, attempted to upgrade the BIOS, trashed the BIOS. Bought a new PC for £1000, so like you my bargain wasn’t so great after all! The silver lining is of course that the new PC performs considerably faster than the old.

  5. Don’t be confused, RAMBUS is not a type of memory. RAMBUS is a bunch of crafty lawyers who tried to swindle Intel and extort the other members of JEDEC. In my mind they’re criminals as well.

    RDRAM (or DRDRAM) was the memory specification they tricked Intel into using instead of DDR. They creatively named it PC600 and PC800 in the beginning, to compete with PC100 and PC133 SDRAM modules which were just then being replaced by DDR. The thing is… PC100 memory was named that because it operated at 100mhz. So that must mean RDRAM ran at 800mhz, right? Wrong. 800 was the throughput provided by the memory. It actually ran at 100mhz. So when JEDEC designed the DDR spec, they named 133mhz (DDR266) "PC2100," indicative of its 2100MB/sec throughput.

    RDRAM actually did provide a very high bandwidth memory system for early P4s. The big problem was latency. RDRAM was horrendously slow when it came to latency, and DDR just destroyed it. Dual-channel DDR systems sealed the coffin.

  6. Should point out, that just as the "100" in PC100 was not comparable in any way to the "800" in PC800, nor was that comparable with PC2100, despite how that may have sounded above 🙂

    The numbers are only useful to compare within memory types… ie PC2400 DDR is faster than PC2100. However PC2100 is not necessarily faster than PC800 RDRAM (though, due to latency, it does outperform it in most circumstances).

  7. Rik Heywood says:

    I had a similar encounter with RAMBUS. My old PC had rambus memory and I wanted to upgrade to 1Gb (needed an extra 512Mb). I looked up the prices and stood in shock for days. When I came to, I noticed that I could buy 1Gb of sane memory, a new motherboard and a new CPU for a lot less than 512Mb of rambus memory, so I did.

    I essentially got a totally new PC and all it cost me as a load of money and time.

  8. Andy Pennell says:

    Thanks Rik, but the truth is that I am too afraid to try a rebuild of my domain controller/file server. Plus the down time would not be spousal-unit-compatible.

    However when the price of AMD64 processors drops some, I will probably replace my desktop RAMBUS box with something that uses that. I’ll probably run the server until MS drops support for Win2KSvr.

  9. Rich it says:

    Add a 2nd domain controller in BDC mode, scrap the PDC and promote the new BDC, this will help you

  10. coral says:

    dammit – just unwrapped the awesome bargain p4 mobo I bought on ebay – took the old one out of the case (also a PITA) only to discover, belatedly that this bargain takes only rdram, damit.

    the board will max out to 2gb – more than I need, but I can only find 128’s and 256’s on ebay, and I’m certainly not spending up big on new ram for a $30 motherboard.

    JEBUS!!!!

  11. Joreatha says:

    Dam, after I read all of that scary stuff about upgrading from 512 mg’s to 1 gb which I need if I install Vista, it could be cold in hell before I attempt to make a change and I can’t install myself either.

    Thanks fellas

  12. Ron Sogge says:

    I felt the same pain and anger trying to keep my old Dell 8200 useful. Receiving the claim form from the class action suit against Samsung, Elpida Memory, and the rest for artificially keeping rambus prices high helps a little. Go to http://www.dramantitrustsettlement.com if you also paid way too much for memory.

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