20 Oct

An Acer and Four Hearts

We bought a new laptop on Saturday. The Dell D830’s motherboard power connectors were fried–I can think of several reasons how that happened, but the end result is unchanged–the battery worked but the AC system didn’t. Rather than spend 200 to $300 on a replacement motherboard for a 4 year old laptop, we went shopping at Fry’s.

Here come the acronyms. Keep your head down and eyes open, and you’ll be okay.

Any more, you can buy a very nice, modern laptop for $500 or less, across brands. In our case, for $490 it’s an Acer with the brand new AMD A8 quad CPU, a 500 GB hard disk (that’s a half terabyte for those excited by nomenclature), 4 GB RAM with an extra 512 MB VRAM, DVD writer, with Windows Home Premium installed. My only complaint is that the display doesn’t have the nice black tones/level of contrast that the Dell had, but Debby is fine with it. The computer is primarily for her use (and secondarily for her two in-home charges Noah and Sophie), so her opinion counts more than most.

We also saw comparable workhorse Lenovo and ASUS systems for between $400 to $500 (with the slightly older hyperthreaded Intel i5 CPUs and nicer displays but no VRAM). I won’t buy another Dell unless I have money to shell out for a physically solid system–the cases and keyboards on the less expensive Dells are flimsy (or “cheapshit” using the term I grew up with ). There are solid models in other brands, but they were either outside our budget or Orwellian with proprietary drivers and utilities.

Ironically, I was the household member unhappy with purchasing new tech. We had to dip temporarily into savings that’s partially our safety net and partially our fund for an oft-delayed trip to Spain. But we set up a payment plan to replace the funds over a three month period with no interest. And Debby relies on the ability to move the computer with her, rather than go to it. So it was the right thing to do because it was possible. Not because it was fun. (I just read that last sentence, looked in the mirror, and asked, Who ARE you?)

The old Dell’s being parted out–the battery and keyboard to Adam for his almost identical laptop, 4 GB RAM to a friend, and the rest sitting on a shelf in case something other than the mother board on Adam’s system fails. We could have set the scavenged case to weather in the front yard, but, you know, the neighbors. And all.

Five days later with the Acer, so far so good. Now, the bad news. I tested out the CPU(s) and video last night with Mass Effect 2 (borrowing my son’s Steam account). Damn. Oh damn. Damn damn. It reminded me again why I limited myself to a netbook and installed Linux instead of Windows. If this game was on my computer and looked and ran this nice, I’d be down from an average of 3 pages a day to 3 paragraphs a day. I closed the lid (in my head, slamming it) and handed it back to Debby, admonishing her to keep it away from me. I know my addictions and depend on others to keep me on the straight ‘n narrow.

27 May

Feckless no more?

Black Diamond run aheadAh, my ASUS “Black Diamond” wireless router just arrived–this means that by Monday (Memorial Day) I could have a wireless network at home that I don’t describe using words like feckless. And I can attach our printer and a centralized backup/media drive to it. And our Wii won’t say “wha?” when I ask it to stream. And I can even use WPA2. And, hopefully, I will be able to connect to HTTPS domains from home using my work laptop.* It’s my little slice of nerdvana.

* Said machine is a new Lenovo Thinkpad (or Stinkpad) running Windows 7–a sturdy, reasonably fast laptop that is in mysterious wireless conflict with my wheezing wireless router when WPA is enabled. I’ve never had this issue before and don’t have it with the nearly as new netbook (running both Win7 or Linux). It’s a valuable but frustrating lesson when tech fails to work.

Update: The router took me less than an hour to set up that same night, including connecting a printer. The reviewers all love it, but warned that its admin screens are more complex than most routers to configure. Not compared to the admin panel for the router it replaced. And my goodness it’s fast.

Update: The conflict with my older router was related to DNS at my workplace and a Windows 7 update. It’s annoying to step back 10 years and have to update the local hosts table manually, but that’s what it took to fix the problem. Still love the router.

09 Feb

Adventures in Netbooking

Thanks to the IRS savings plan, we’ll get enough money back this year to pretty up the main bath, make some necessary car repairs, fix the front porch roof, and, more importantly, buy a netbook for me. My precious, not for sharing.

Specs

The Asus Tripoli* PC 1018P w/ Intel Atom N550 Dual Core CPU, 2 gb RAM, 250 gb hard drive (enhanced hamster, not SSD, which unfortunately is out of budget), two USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 ports, and a card reader. And a neoprene sleeve for transport.

It comes with Windows 7 “starter.” I plan to wipe the drive and install CrunchBang Linux. My son’s SO has been using C! on her netbook for about a year and has been very happy with it. C! doesn’t have the pretty UI provided with (K)Ubuntu, but it supposedly runs faster and has fewer issues. And fewer distractions. I like Win7, but also like the idea of using an OS that’s currently less subject to attack, has less system overhead, and keeps me focused. I also “grew up” on UNIX and Windows systems, so shifting back and forth is fairly easy.

Writing tools for Linux

I’m buying the Tripoli to use as a very portable, moderately priced writing tool, that can also handle e-mail, browsing, and playing multimedia files. I’m willing to trade screen and keyboard size for portability/weight (which is minus one pound–the anchor comes with it). For home use, I’ll eventually get a larger screen and keyboard.

I will miss my two favorite, distraction-free writing tools for Windows: PageFour and Scrivener. I’ll install OpenOffice to handle compability with MS Office files, but I stopped using Word for personal writing projects waaaay back in ’09. So I’ll be evaluating tools like FocusWriterPyRoom, q10, KWord, Writer’s Cafe, Celtx, and, for desktop publishing, Scribus. There are also full featured text editors, but I want writing tools that provide a little more lift without much adjustment. If you know what I mean.

I hope to have the netbook in my grubby little hands in three weeks or less. I’m getting the white clamshell, though, so I best wash up first.

Note: I was writing this list of tools as I was looking them up. It turns out that Windows is the starved platform. Kind of like eating the same thing for years out of a well stocked pantry and suddenly noticing a plain but well built little door along the baseboard that, on opening, leads into a gourmet deli.

Update: Several people have asked why I didn’t consider an iPad or wait for an Android tablet. They said that the netbook market is shrinking and will soon vanish, squeezed between cheap repackaged last-gen notebooks and the sexy new, ready to go out of the box, tablets. Err, no. At least, not anytime soon. Those cheap notebooks are still heavy and large, and the tablets are still appliances, not tools, and are more expensive than netbooks. The iPad has lousy wifi connectivity and, without buying an external keyboard, doesn’t cut it as a writing tool. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with tablets and appreciate them for what they are and will be, enough to know they won’t serve my needs anytime soon. I also don’t care if the netbook market dries up. It’ll continue to be a very useful tool until it stops working. I don’t know if Kurt’s world is the real world. But it’s real enough for me.

*Tripoli reads nicer and carries the weight of history while Eee sounds too much like a shriek, and I don’t want no computer that makes me shriek. Anymore.