Sunday, December 23, 2007

Why Dell and Gateway Are Going Into Retail

I recently bought a Dell for my daughter. This was the first desktop that I ever purchased by simply walking into a store and walking out with a box. My Toshiba laptop was the first computer that I ever purchased at retail and not online. I went to the local WalMart and bought the second cheapest computer in stock. The cheapest was an eMachines. It came with a widescreen monitor, 2 GB of RAM, an AMD dual core processor, Vista, and a 250 GB hard drive for less than $1,000.00. One thing about just walking in and picking up a computer is that you don't have the same urge to upgrade, upgrade, upgrade that you do when ordering online. It works just fine for my daughter who was thrilled.

Having succeded with the Toshiba and a Dell, I decided to do the same thing for my new laptop. I went to the local OfficeMax, which had a supply of HPs, Sony's, and Toshibas. After looking them over, an employee pointed out to me that they had the HP Pavilion dv6000 for $799.99 bundled with an HP printer and digital camera. The dv6000 has an AMD processor (only my second), 2 GB of RAM (which is more than you can even add to the old Toshiba), a widescreen, Vista Home Premium, and a 160 GB hard drive.. It seemed like a no brainer to me. Plus with Christmas coming, I figured that I could give the printer to my daughter to go with her new Dell and the camera to my son. I took one. I had thought about buying a business laptop with Windows XP, which seemed to be available at Office Depot, but I figured that if I really hated Vista, I could retro-upgrade to the older more familiar experience of XP. So far, so good.

Pleasant Surprises: The widescreen is gorgeous. It is at least the equal of my Toshiba's and that was really good. The built in Altec Lansing speakers are 100 times better than the crummy Toshiba speakers. It is much lighter than my Toshiba. In fact, it is almost too light. The shell is clearly plastic, which may be one reason that it is so light, and I worry about the construction quality of this lightweight, plastic laptop. It is also very thin. It is much thinner than the Toshiba. However, the lightness and thinness make it a pleasure to travel with. It is the lightest, thinnest laptop I've ever owned. I buy my laptops to serve as a desktop replacement that I lug to work and back home again so lightness and thinness were never a priority before. It has a webcam and built in microphone, which I've never had before. I might have to try some video communications now.

Disappointments: The aforementioned lightweight, plasticky feel. Vista seems to take too long to boot up (not that my former XP laptop was a speed demon). It took me forever and multiple tries before I could get it to connect reliably to my home wireless network. At first, it didn't even seem to find the network and I thought it was broken. However, after monkeying around with the settings and exploring, I finally found one that worked. I've now connected to wireless networks at home, Orlando International Airport, a Microtel Hotel, my in-laws in Williamstown, a Howard Johnson's motel, and (at this very moment) my in-laws in Albany. Guess I've got it figured out. The touchpad has a virtual scroll bar on the right side so every time I brush it with my right palm the screen jumps around. It is pretty annoying. I've adjusted the pressure settings and it has improved, but it hasn't gone away completely. I loaded Office 2003 and now the EULA keeps popping up when I use it. According to a Crucial Memory scan, 2 GB is the maximum amount of RAM that the computer can handle. I'm going to investigate that further though. Given that 2 GB is the minimum recommended for Vista I'd like to have the option to add another 2 GB.

Over-all I am pretty happy with it, especially for the price of $799.99

An Update to Adventures in DIY Computer Upgrading

Remember that Toshiba laptop that I added RAM to and upgraded the hard drive myself? It died. Specifically, the LCD screen stopped working. It is very difficult to work on a computer when the screen looks plaid. Having already learned my lesson wasting time and money upgrading the hard drive myself, I immediately purchased a new laptop. "Immediately" may not be the right word. "Eventually" would be the right word, because first I just couldn't resist goofing around trying to be clever.

The Toshiba still worked except that you couldn't see anything on the screen. So I tried connecting it to a working monitor, which worked really well until I tried to tweak the settings. Silly me! I just had to tinker. After that, I had to try to figure out what was happening on the broken Toshiba screen and then drag the window that I was working with to the working screen. I couldn't get back to having the working screen show the Toshiba's desktop until I connected it to another monitor. I thought maybe I could just swap the Toshiba's recently upgraded hard drive to the Gateway. It fit easily and booted up, but it didn't work too well because of the differing hardware configurations. For some reason, I also couldn't get to my data.

I tried backing up my data to the old 40 GB hard drive, reformatting, and starting over. Well, somehow the data didn't back up and I lost it. In the end, I ended up with a broken but still working Toshiba and a Gateway that is missing essential drivers, which I've tried to replace, that won't connect to the Internet anymore. By the way, the data loss wasn't a complete disaster. Most of my important documents are on the server at my office anyway. I did lose a few things, but nothing that I don't have paper copies of and that I can't rebuild.

After spending another weekend learning my lesson, I hit on the solution that I had figured would cure the problem from the beginning and was my fall back plan all along. I went out and bought a new laptop. I realize that the problem with the Toshiba might be as simple as the cable connecting the screen to the rest of the computer, but even if it could be fixed for a reasonable price would I be halfway to the cost of an up-to-date laptop while preserving a laptop that while functional was yesterday's news?

My Blogging Hiatus

It has been awhile, too long really, since I last posted to this blog. After an intitial burst of regular posting, I found myself feeling like I had nothing interesting to say. So where have I been and what have I been doing? Nothing much really. Well, that isn't entirely true. I've been working --- a lot. Plus the kids are back in school and the family is busy. I get up, I take the kids to school, I go to work, I come home, I go to sleep.... I think you get the idea. Summer is over and the living is no longer easy. And given the nature of my work (I'm a lawyer), I can't say a whole lot about what I do at work. But this week, I'm on vacation so I'm gong to try to do some blogging. So, here goes...