Tuesday, June 5, 2007

New laptop

My first order of business when I get the car will be to transfer my change into bills. I desperately need a new laptop, and I'm too cheap to use my savings account, so I'm going to cash in a year's worth of coins. I got really curious the other night and counted the quarters (leaving the dimes, nickels and pennies), and I have $625. It took a long time to count those suckers, but once I began, I didn't want to stop. And there should be another hundred or two with the smaller denomination coins.

Naturally, there's a problem. My bank claims not to have a coin counting machine. The only non-bank machines I know of in San Diego are the ones located in Von's grocery stores. But, they charge 10%. I'd hate to lose $70 or more dollars. The other options are to exchange the coins for Von's credit -- they don't charge a percentage that way. And I wouldn't need to "buy" groceries for a long, long time with nearly $1000 in grocery store credit. But, then I'd have to dip into savings to get a laptop. Hmmmm. What do do...

I can buy rolling papers and roll all the coins manually, then deposit them at my bank, but that's a huge amount of work. How does such a simple operation become so complicated? I guess it's like everything else in life: it will be as difficult as it can possibly be.

Anyway, my laptop has a bad light source in the display. Every time I open or close the lid, it goes dark. The data is still there -- in bright sunlight I can still read the screen, or when I put a flashlight on it. The only way I can get it back is to press the power button, putting it into Standby mode, then move the touchpad to bring it back to life. Huge hassle, and sometimes the machine shuts down instead of going into standby. The fix is $500, which doesn't make sense considering the whole machine was $660. I may keep using the current laptop at home, with the external monitor feature (I have a spare 19" CRT). I'd like to try Linux on a laptop.

I've been out of the PC-buying loop for more than two years, and things change quickly. So I went to the one place that can get current on everything in a half hour: Tom's Hardware. After carefully reviewing dual core, laptop processors, I plan to get the Intel chip rather than an AMD Turion 64 x2. I based this decision mostly on the L2 cache. It seems Intel has 2MB, where AMD only has 1, and this makes for a noticeable performance difference. And the prices are comparable.

The laptops I'm looking at range from $800 to $1100, which gets me an Intel Core Duo in the 5000 range (midgrade processor), with 2GB RAM, 120GB HD, and the other usual stuff, like TV out, DVD burner, and built-in WiFi. I also want an SD card reader.

Two Gigs of RAM is important to me because Vista is reported to be slow with 1, and it's fairly expensive to upgrade from 1 to 2 later. That's because the 1GB laptops have two sticks of RAM, at 512MB each, which is stupid. If it had a single, 1GB stick, you could just buy a second stick. As it is, you have to buy two 1GB sticks to replace the 512s, which can then be thrown in the trash. This is a con if I ever saw one.

I'll get Vista, although not without some reservations. It's big and slightly slower than XP, but most of the reviews I've read say Vista is worth it. I've been using Microsoft operating systems since Dos 3.x (that's a long, long time), and I've never known a new OS to not be a vast improvement over the old (except Me, which I refused to mess with). My only gripe with XP is networking, but I can always get it to work. Still, I'm anxious to try Vista.

I checked the usual places for pricing, and was surprised that Circuit City has the best prices. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Two years ago when I bought my current Compaq, I found the same thing.

Best Buy
Circuit City
Office Depot

The only laptops I've ruled out are: Lenovo, because I won't buy a Chinese computer until Google.cn shows the massacre when "tiananmen square" is searched (PC activism!) and Mac, because I have too much software for Windows and I don't wish to spend 25% more money for the same performance and capability. I plan to buy a 3-year warranty this time, considering the abuse of using it in the car -- and my Compaq died after 2 years. Nothing against Compaq; I think any laptop would have given up the ghost with the hard use.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ted,
My name is Christopher Lawton. I am a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and based in San Francisco. I am writing a story about the latest PCs in retail stores and I saw on your blog that you are looking into buying a new laptop. I was wondering if you'd be interested in interviewing with me about your decision. It wouldn't take long. I just wanted to ask you what you are looking for and get your thoughts on some new trends in the PC industry. Sorry to post this directly on your blog, but I was unable to find an email address for you. If you are interested, please email me at christopher.lawton@wsj.com or you can reach me in the office at 415 765 8200. Thanks. I hope to hear from you.

Christopher Lawton

John said...

Hey Ted,

With regard to RAM and how many sticks the computer is shipped with . . . there are actually benchmark tests that have proven that two sticks of equal specs are faster that one with the same spec but more capacity. In other words, two 512's run faster and more efficient than one 1 GB.

Anonymous said...

That's good to know. Thanks.

--Ted Martin