01-18-09 - Laptops

So I'm trying to learn about laptops. I need to buy a new one for Alissa ASAP, and some day soon I need to replace mine, though the more I read about them the more I like my fucking 5 year old laptop. My AOpen laptop is running a Radeon 9600-Mobility , which is a DX8 part, but it has a 7200 RPM drive, 15" display at 1400x1050 with a thin bezel, runs cool and quiet (with no 3d use), and the battery lasts 4 hours (with no 3d use). Plus my current lappy is Windows XP which is a huge bonus. Unfortunately it's my main dev machine, and once I start doing DX10+ it just won't work.

So my first dilemma looking for laptops for Alissa is the fucking operating system problem. It's hard to find XP laptops any more (though they do exist, it severely limits the choices); I really don't want to ever deal with Vista. The other choice is Mac OS X. I hear good things about OS X for casual users, but it greatly reduces my ability to do tech support on it; I'd have to learn a whole bunch of quirks of new operating systems, and I'm worried that simple things like sharing files with our Windows media PC might be a pain.

The biggest improvements in laptops in the last 5 years seem to be : 1. SSD's , and 2. LED's. The SSD disk is mainly awesome because of reduced noise. The SSD has other nice littler perks - slightly faster boot (though that's comparing to a 7200 RPM drive, if you get stuck with the standard 5400 or 4200 in notebooks then an SSD is a big improvement), and slightly more durable and less power draw. LED backlit screens is a pretty big win in every way. Other than those two things I'm pretty disappointed. Weight and battery life do not seem to be significantly improved.

The Atom-based mini laptops are kind of cool. For one thing they actually have battery life (8 hours on good ones like the Samsung NC10 ). However, the ubiquitous 10" screens just don't make sense to me. It's too small for doing anything serious, it's like an eye-strain nightmare and you can't even fit web pages in that resolution. I think 13" and 1280x900 or so is the minimum for a "netbook" type of usage, and 15" and 1400x1050 is the minimum for a "productivity" laptop (yes I know 1280x800 seems to be the standard thing now but fuck that's just not enough vertical pixels; I'd like 1280x1024 really, I fucking hate widescreen; text pages are vertical!!).

I just don't get this "mini" product niche at all. If you can carry a 10" thing then you can carry a 13" thing. If you want something tiny just for email, use your iPhone. You can get some 12" screens at 1280x800 which would be okay ; for example this MSI . MSI seems to be the new cool off-brand notebook (it used to be AOpen but they seem to have dropped out). MSI also has one of the few decent websites of any laptop maker, you can actually filter the different models by sensible criteria like screen size, weight, and operating system.

The "Air" is just a marketing piece of shit. First of all if you want a thin laptop that's actually functional, you can get a Samsung X460 . But thin is just such a worthless retarded fucking way to measure laptops. It's like measuring cars by the volume of their engine. It's just not what you actually care about. Oo la la look how fucking thin my laptop is; who fucking cares? The important things for a laptop to actually be lappable are : 1. weight, 2. heat, and 3. battery. The "Air" does okay on #1 but fails miserably on #2 and #3. What the fuck is the point of a thin light laptop if you can't actually use it on your lap because it gets scalding hot and only runs on battery for 2 minutes. Also the lack of ethernet port is pretty ass-tacular.

The MacBook Pros seem good, but they're just about double the price of comparable windows laptops such as the Asus N80 - they're $2500 instead of about $1100 for the same spec PC. Also, it's pretty fucking annoying the way they keep reving the hardware and not changing the name at all. When someone says "Macbook Pro" it doesn't specify the type at all. This is a decent page about the revisions. I guess the new ones (Rev F - 2.4 Ghz Penryn) have nice improvements. They offer LED and SSD. The resolution of the 15" is pretty decent (1440 by 900) though I'd rather have non-wide 1400x1050.

I have to admit the Adamo looks pretty sexy but I'm sure it will be way overpriced. Though with everything I'm reading about heat, I'm not convinced that making your laptop a solid brick of conductor is such a great idea. There's some merit to the old plastic cases with vents and fans.

The Dell XPS M1330 actually looks pretty sweet, it seems like a decent compromise (it has SSD and LED now), and they're old enough that the price is now reasonable. The main drawback is that it's Dell (and Vista), and Dell has been making nothing but ass for the last 10 years. Apparently it does get too hot to lap, though.

Anyway .. off to do more research ..

ADDENDUM : fucking hell, searching for hardware info is really annoying. For one thing, default searching gives me all kinds of old results that are just completely worthless (old hardware news should just get deleted from search or something, WTF, I don't want to know about the 2006 revisions of the Macbook). The other thing is the results are dominated by sites that are just selling things with no added info - and even when you do get good info from a place like Anand or Tom's they tend to be "first look" type reviews. The good reviewers are focused on the things that aren't out yet, and they often fail to go back and write a good review with hindsight. What I'd actually like is reviews from people who have actually owned these things for several months, and not just random shlubs but cognoscenti.

Also, I don't need to see pictures of you fucking unboxing it ! No, I don't care about the packaging or what kind of pamphlets and logos it came with. I don't want a reviews from someone who's spent a few days or less with the damn thing. Urg.

BTW another trend that seems to have arisen is the "boutique" laptop, and it's infiltrating all the price points. For example there's the Best Buy "Blue Label" laptops, that are basic laptops with a 50% price hike for no reason. And all the manufacturers now are making "special editions" variants where you can spend an extra $200+ to get stupid designs on your case, like the HP Pavilion with "* Ceramic white coloring with sophisticated leaf design symbolizing rejuvenation and growth". Who the fuck pays for this shit?


Michael said...

I'm trying to transition to a Macbook Pro 15 I got off ebay for $900. since I haven't configured the dual boot I'm not using it much, yet. will get there though.

James said...

I don't understand everyone's problem with vista. It took me a weekend to get it acting exactly the way i want; better than xp.

cbloom said...

Good to know. I'm just scared of getting into a new OS and having to learn the quirks all over again.

Plus it seems to me there are real problems with x64 driver support still. Maybe the mainstream stuff is well supported, but I look at little apps from various people all the time and see "sorry no Vista 64 support" yet.

MH said...

I also installed Vista64 on Heather's machine to break the 4gig barrier.

Its been running great. Had 0 problems with drivers, though we dont have any exotic peripherals. In fact, it recognized the onboard RAID controller which XP never seems to do.

While drivers must be 64bit (and signed for vista 64), 32 bit apps run great. It installs them into a 'Program Files (x86)' folder and they all seem to work great. From big apps like photoshop to the tons of little shareware apps.

Undoubtably there are little incompatabilities with various apps, as you would expect with any new version of windows. Luckily we havent hit any.

a said...

Wow, I have used Vista and it is horrible compared to XP. And not in small ways that you get used to - but large, I-can't-believe-they-shipped-this ways.

Hey, how often do you right click on repair, when you lose wireless? If you move from the office to home to a coffee shop, maybe once or twice a day? That takes 20 seconds on XP. Up to 4 minutes on Vista.

Want to check for Windows Update? Set some time aside, because that doesn't complete on any of my Vista machines (wireless or wired) in less than 10 minutes.

Hey, did you turn off indexing because you don't want the machine to be spinning the drive whenever you stop typing? Be sure never to search the drive, because as the search window searches in the background, it starts a new full driver search for every key you strike.

Hey, did you turn off UAC because you get tired of the screen flashing black and then clicking continue? That's good, because now you don't have to click continue. BUT THE SCREEN STILL FLASHES BLACK BRIEFLY.

Or you want small stuff? How about when you login and you type your password - it says "Welcome" for a few seconds before flipping back to the password screen. I mean, it's crazy to have one screen for trying the password, and one to *actually* welcome the user, right?

It's the worst thing Microsoft has ever done - and that includes Songsmith. It's embarassingly bad.

old rants