GeekTech: Welcome to the Geek Club

So you call yourself a geek, huh? If you do, you've undoubtedly provided tech support to countless friends when their PCs start displaying undecipherable error messages (or you just run and hide like I do), discussed the merits of gigabit ethernet during a romantic dinner (who hasn't?), and even built your own computer.

Few people, myself included, were born geeks. It took years of practice and tinkering and asking geekier friends really dumb questions. Eventually, you graduated to geekdom, fully embracing geek culture in all its glory. This column is an ode to all things geeky--or at least to some geeky stuff that I piled together this month.

Ah, it's great to be a geek.

Geek Activities

At some point you're going to have to step away from your PC. Maybe to eat or sleep, or possibly even shower. But when you're brave enough to leave the glow of your monitor for the glow of that yellow thing in the sky (commonly called the sun), you can explore and find new places doing something called Geocaching.

It's like hunting for buried treasure, but with a Global Positioning System receiver. Here's how it works: Someone hides a treasure and puts a coordinate on the Geocaching site, then others find the treasure. When you locate the treasure chest (usually a plastic container) you get to take something someone has left and put in something of your own.

To get started, buy a GPS device. Then go to the Geocaching site, type in your zip code, and you'll see a list of places where treasure is buried. Then grab a map, a geeky friend, and your GPS device, and put on your walking shoes.

Geek Style

And when you do finally take your pasty geek self outside, you may want to replace those old T-shirts with something new and nifty (read: not bearing the name of some defunct dot com).

I stumbled upon ThinkGeek a while back. The site sells plenty of geek paraphernalia, like the James Bond Stealth Camera that looks just like a cigarette lighter. But the online store also has spiffy and humorous geek T-shirts; I bought a "Chicks Dig Unix" shirt and one that just says <GEEK>.

Spam Is for the Weak

Forget spam filters. The best way to avoid getting spammed is to never give out your e-mail address--except to friends, family, and the occasional coworker. I'll admit my ways are a bit on the psychotically protective side--but hey, I hardly ever receive messages about Viagra or Hot XXX College Babes.

Spam stays out of my home in-box because it goes a Web-based e-mail account I created. I use that e-mail address when I need to post in a forum, register on sites that require an e-mail address, or give out my e-mail address to anyone I don't know. That way, when my address is sold to the spam fairies, my home account won't be deluged.

You're probably telling yourself that this isn't really news. But you may not have seen sites that let you create disposable e-mail accounts for one-time use. TrashMail and Spam Day are just a couple.

The Dreaded Messenger Spam

I was just minding my own business one day, reading e-mail and browsing the Web on my notebook, when an annoying pop-up kept bothering me. It wasn't like the regular pop-ups that appear on Web pages. This one was different. I finally deduced that it was coming from Windows Messenger Service. Windows Messenger is enabled by default in XP--and it's annoying when someone starts using it to send you spam that way.

But I also figured out how to turn it off: Go into XP's Administrative Tools, then to Computer Management. From there, select Services and Applications and then double-click Messenger. Then select either Manual or Disable from the drop-down list.


I can't count the number of reader letters I get asking for buying advice. While I love to help, I just don't have time to assist everyone. But I pulled a recent reader letter so I could do my good deed for the day and give a hand to a fellow geek in need.

Q: "I have a Dell Dimension 8200 Pentium 4 2.26 with 512MB of PC-800 RDRAM. I want to go to a gig of RAM, but unfortunately my four slots are occupied with 128MB sticks and I don't want to spend $500 on obsolete Rambus. So I was trying to decide whether to replace the entire system or just the motherboard and memory. The cost of a decent mobo and 1GB of PC3200 would be $325. This is where I need an educated opinion other than a salesperson.

"I have added an ATI 9600 pro card, but will changing the mobo and going to a gig of 3200 DDR give me a decent jump in performance? When I bought this system Rambus was all the rage and every gaming rig used it. Is dual channel DDR better than RDRAM? I could in the future go to a 3.0 or 3.2 P4 if need be. I just can't decide whether to upgrade this system or sell it and build a new one. I do some gaming, also burn DVD movies and digital photography. Any opinions will be greatly appreciated, I do read a lot of articles and search the Web for info but I've never come across anything that explained why Rambus died. And I've never found a legible motherboard comparison."

A: Okay, so first things first. In our tests RDRAM provided a bit of a boost in video or music streaming apps. But it's pricey, as the reader points out. According to our Product Finder, one stick of RDRAM will run you anywhere from $90 to over $200, depending on the vendor and whether the module holds 256MB or 512MB. So to get a gig of memory, you could pay more than $400.

The reader asked if it would be better to junk the existing system or get a new motherboard and memory for $325. I'd like to point out that if you want a noticeable speed boost, you should factor in a new processor--that's the pricey part of the equation. Sure, upgrading the motherboard and memory will speed up things, but the real speed is in the processor.

Let's do a little math: a 3.0-GHz Pentium 4 processor will cost about $250, two sticks of 512MB PC3200 memory about $200, and a motherboard about $150 or so. (Most don't cost more than $250.) Your grand total would be around $600, $100 or so more than a gig of Rambus would cost.

Given that and the fact that you can pretty much rebuild your system for the price of two sticks of Rambus memory, it makes sense to go for the gold with a new system. At GeekTech, we're big fans of building new PCs, because we're geeks and that's what we do.

For more information on this topic, read "Do You Need a New PC or Just a New Motherboard?"

Of course, now that I've told you all this, I have one more bit of information: Fellow GeekTech columnist Tom Mainelli wrote about PCI Express chip sets that are slated to arrive soon. This technology promises notable performance boosts, so it may be best to wait if you want a truly screaming system.

Alexandra Krasne will now be stepping away from her computer and (gasp!) going outside. But she'll be bringing her laptop along, just in case.

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