Posts Tagged‘laptop’

Windows 10: Much The Same, and That’s Just Fine.

New Windows releases bring with them a bevy of new features, use cases and controversy. Indeed I can think back to every new Windows release dating back to Windows 95 and there was always something that set off a furor, whether it was UI changes or compatibility issues. For us technical folk though a new version of Windows brings with it opportunity, to experiment with the latest tech and dream about where we’ll take it. For the last month I’ve been using Windows 10 on my home machines and, honestly, whilst it feels much like its Windows 8.1 predecessor I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing.

IMG_20150823_224228

Visually Windows 10 is a big departure from its 8 and 8.1 predecessors as, for any non-tablet device, the full screen metro app tray is gone, replaced with a more familiar start menu. The full screen option is still there however, hiding in the notifications area under the guise of Tablet Mode, and for transformer or tablet style devices this will be the default option. The flat aesthetic has been taken even further again with all the iconography being reworked, ironing out almost any 3D element. You’re also not allowed to change the login screen’s laser window background without the aid of a resource hacker, likely due to the extreme amount of effort that went into creating the image.

For most, especially those who didn’t jump in the Windows 8 bandwagon, the navigation of the start menu will familiar although I must admit after the years I’ve spent with its predecessor it’s taken some getting used to. Whilst the charms menu might have disappeared the essence of it appears throughout Windows 10, mostly in the form of settings panels like Network Settings. For the most part they do make the routine tasks easier, like selecting a wifi network, however once things get complicated (like if you have say 2 wireless adapters) then you’re going to have to root around a little bit to find what you’re looking for. It is a slightly better system than what Windows 8 had, however.

To give myself the full Windows 10 experience I installed it on 2 different machines in 2 different ways. The first was a clean install on the laptop you see above (my trusty ASUS Zenbook UX32V) and that went along without a hitch. For those familiar with the Windows 8 style installer there’s not much to write home about here as it’s near identical to the previous installers. The second install was an upgrade on my main machine as, funnily enough, I had it on good word that the upgrade process was actually quite useable. As it turns out it is as pretty much everything came across without a hitch. The only hiccup came from my audio drivers not working correctly (seemed to default to digital out and wouldn’t let me change it) however a reinstall of the latest drivers fixed everything.

In terms of features there’s really not much in the way of things I’d consider “must haves” however that’s likely because I’ve been using many of those features since Windows 8 was first released. There are some interesting little additions however like the games features that allow you to stream, record and capture screenshots for all DirectX games (something which Windows will remind you about when you start them up). Microsoft Edge is also astonishingly fast and quite useable however since it’s so new the lack of extensions for it have precluded me from using it extensively. Interestingly Internet Explorer still makes an appearance in Windows 10, obviously for those corporate applications that continue to require it.

Under the hood there’s a bevy of changes (which I won’t bore you with here) however the most interesting thing about them is the way Windows 10 is structured for improvements going forward. You see Windows 10 is currently slated to be the last major release of Windows ever but this doesn’t mean that it will remain stagnant. Instead new features will be released incrementally on a much more frequent basis. Indeed the roadmaps I’ve seen show that there are several major releases planned in the not too distant future and indeed if you want a peek at the them all you need to do is sign up for the Windows Insider program. Such a strategy could reap a lot of benefits, especially for organisations seeking to avoid the heartache of Windows version upgrades in the future.

All in all Windows 10 is pretty much what I expected it to be. It has the best parts of Windows 7 and 8 and mashed together into a cohesive whole that should appease the majority of Windows users. Sure there are some things that some won’t like, the privacy settings being chief among them, however they’re at least solvable issues rather than showstoppers like Vista’s compatibility or 8’s metro interface. Whether Microsoft’s strategy of no more major versions ever is tenable or not is something we’ll have to see over the coming years but at the very least they’ve got a strong base with which to build from.

External GPUs are a Solution in Search of a Problem.

If you’re a long time PC gamer chances are that you’ve considered getting yourself a gaming laptop at one point or another. The main attraction from such a device is portability, especially back in the heydays of LANs where steel cases and giant CRTs were a right pain to lug around. However they always came at a cost, both financially and opportunity as once you bought yourself a gaming laptop you were locked into those specs until you bought yourself another one. Alienware, a longtime manufacturer of gaming laptops, has cottoned onto this issue and has developed what they’re calling the Graphics Amplifier in order to bring desktop level grunt and upgradeability to their line of laptops.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier

On the surface it looks like a giant external hard drive but inside it are all the components required to run any PCIe graphics card. It contains a small circuit board with a PCIe x16 slot, a 450W power supply and a host of other connections because why not. There’s no fans or anything else to speak of however so you’re going to want to get a card with a blower style fan system on it, something which you’ll only see on reference cards these days. This then connects back to an Alienware laptop through a proprietary connection (unfortunately) which then allows the graphics card to act as if it’s installed in the system. The enclosure retails for about $300 without the graphics card included in it which means you’re up for about $600+ if you’re going to buy one for it. That’s certainly not out of reach for those who are already investing $1800+ in the requisite laptop but it’s certainly enough to make you reconsider the laptop purchase in the first place.

You see whilst this external case does appear to work as advertised (judging by the various articles that have popped up with it) it essentially removes the most attractive thing about having a gaming capable laptop: the portability. Sure this is probably more portable than a mini tower and a monitor but at the same time this case is likely to weigh more than the laptop itself and won’t fit into your laptop carry bag. The argument could be made that you wouldn’t need to take this with you, this is only for home use or something, but even then I’d argue you’d likely be better off with a gaming desktop and some slim, far more portable laptop to take with you (both of which could be had for the combined cost of this and the laptop).

Honestly though the days have long since passed when it was necessary to upgrade your hardware on a near yearly basis in order to be able to play the latest games. My current rig is well over 3 years old now and is still quite capable of playing all current releases, even if I have to dial back a setting or two on occasion. With that in mind you’d be better off spending the extra cash that you’d sink into this device plus the graphics card into the actual laptop itself which would likely net you the same overall performance. Then, when the laptop finally starts to show its age, you’ll likely be in the market for a replacement anyway.

I’m sure there’ll be a few people out there who’ll find some value in a device like this but honestly I just can’t see it. Sure it’s a cool piece of technology, a complete product where there’s only been DIY solutions in the past, but it’s uses are extremely limited and not likely to appeal to those who it’ll be marketed too. Indeed it feels much like Razer’s modular PC project, a cool idea that just simply won’t have a market to sell its product to. It’ll be interesting to see if this catches on though but since Alienware are the first (and only) company to be doing this I don’t have a high hopes.

Super Tablets? You’re Not Simple, Are You?

Smartphones and laptops have always been a pain in the side of any enterprise admin. They almost always find themselves into the IT environment via a decidedly non-IT driven process, usually when an executive gets a new toy that he’d like his corporate email on. However the tools to support these devices have improved drastically allowing IT to provide the basic services (it’s almost always only email) and then be done with it. For the most part people see the delineation pretty clearly: smartphones and tablets are for mobile working and your desktop or laptop is for when you need to do actual work. I’ve honestly never seen a need for a device that crosses the boundaries between these two worlds although after reading this piece of dribble it seems that some C-level execs think there’s demand for such a device.

I don’t think he could be more wrong if he tried.

Panasonic Super TabletThe article starts off with some good points about why tablet sales are down (the market has been saturated, much like netbooks were) and why PC sales are up (XP’s end of life, although that’s only part of it) and then posits the idea of creating “super tablets” in order to reignite the market. Such a device would be somewhere in between an iPad and a laptop, sporting a bigger screen, functional keyboard and upgraded internals but keeping the same standardized operating system. According to the author such a device would bridge the productivity gap that currently divides tablets from other PCs giving users the best of both worlds. The rest of the article makes mention of a whole bunch of things that I’ll get into debunking later but the main thrust of it is that some kind of souped up tablet is the perfect device for corporate IT.

For starters the notion that PCs are hard to manage in comparison to tablets or smartphones is nothing short of total horseshit. The author makes a point that ServiceNow, which provides some incident management software, is worth $8 billion as some kind of proof that PCs break often and are hard to manage. What that fails to grasp is that ServiceNow is actually an IT Service Management company that also has Software/Platform as a Service offerings and thus are more akin to a company like Salesforce than simply an incident management company. This then leads onto the idea that the mobile section is somehow cheaper to run that its PC counterpart which is not the case in many circumstances. He also makes the assertion that desktop virtualization is expensive when in most cases it makes heavy use of investments that IT has already made in both server and desktop infrastructure.

In fact the whole article smacks of someone who seems cheerfully ignorant of the fact that the product that he’s peddling is pretty much an ultrabook with a couple of minor differences. One of the prime reasons people like tablets is their portability and the second you increase the screen size and whack a “proper” keyboard on that you’ve essentially given them a laptop. His argument is then that you need the specifications of a laptop with Android or iOS on it but I fail to see how extra power is going to make those platforms any more useful than they are today. Indeed if all you’re doing is word processing an Internet browsing then the current iteration of Android laptops does the job just fine.

Sometimes when there’s an apparent gap in the market there’s a reason for it and in the case of “super tablets” it’s because when you take what’s good about the two platforms it bridges you end up with a device that has none of the benefits of either. This idea probably arises from the incorrect notion that PCs are incredibly unreliable and hard to manage when, in actuality, that’s so far from reality it’s almost comical. Instead the delineations between tablets and laptops are based on well defined usability guidelines that both consumers and enterprise IT staff have come to appreciate. It’s like looking at a nail and a screw and thinking that combining them into a super nail will somehow give you the benefits of both when realistically they’re for different purposes and the sooner you realise that the better you’ll be at hammering and screwing.

 

Microsoft’s Surface 3: It’s Interesting Because of What It’s Not.

The Surface has always been something of a bastard child for Microsoft. They were somewhat forced into creating a tablet device as everyone saw them losing to Apple in this space (even though Microsoft’s consumer electronics division isn’t one of their main profit centers) and their entry into the market managed to confuse a lot of people. The split between the Pro and RT line was clear enough for those of us in the know however consumers, who often in the face of 2 seemingly identical choices will prefer the cheaper one, were left with devices that didn’t function exactly as they expected. The branding of the Surface then changed slightly so that those seeking the device would likely end up with the Pro model and all would be right with the world. The Surface 3, announced last week, carries on that tradition albeit with a much more extreme approach.

Surface Pro 3

As you’d expect the new Surface is an evolutionary step up in terms of functionality, specifications and, funnily enough, size. You now have the choice of either an Intel i3, i5 or i7, 4GB or 8GB of memory and up to 512GB of SSD storage. The screen has swelled to 12″ in size and now sports a pretty incredible 2160 x 1440 resolution, equal to that of many high end screens you’d typically find on a desktop. These additional features actually come with a reduction in weight from the Surface 2 Pro, down from 900g to a paltry 790g. There are some other minor changes as well like the multi-position kickstand and a changed pen but those are small potatoes compared to the rest of the changes that seem to have aimed the Surface more as a laptop replacement than a tablet that can do laptop things.

Since I carry a laptop with me for work (a Dell Latitude E6430 if you were wondering) I’m most certainly sensitive to the issues that plague people like me and the Surface Pro has the answer to many of them. Having to lug my work beast around isn’t the most pleasant experience and I’ve long been a champion of moving everyone across to Ultrabooks in order to address many of the concerns. The Surface Pro is essentially an Ultrabook in a tablet form factor which provides the benefits of both in one package. Indeed colleagues of mine who’ve bought a surface for that purpose love them and those who bought the original Surface Pro back at the TechEd fire sale all said similar things after a couple days of use.

The one thing that would seal the deal for me on the Surface as the replacement to my now 2 year old Zenbook would be the inclusion (or at least option to include) a discrete graphics card. Whilst I don’t do it often I do use my (non-work) laptop for gaming and whilst the Intel HD 4400 can play some games decently the majority of them will struggle. However the inclusion of even a basic discrete chip would make the Surface a portable gaming powerhouse and would be the prime choice for when my Zenbook reaches retirement. That’s still a year or two away however so Microsoft may end up getting my money in the end.

What’s really interesting about this announcement is the profound lack of a RT version of the Surface Pro 3. Indeed whilst I didn’t think there was anything to get confused about between the two version it seems a lot of people did and that has led to a lot of disappointed customers. It was obvious that Microsoft was downplaying the RT version when the second one was announced last year but few thought that it would lead to Microsoft outright cancelling the line. Indeed the lack of an accompanying Surface RT would indicate that Microsoft isn’t so keen on that platform, something which doesn’t bode well for the few OEMs that decided to play in that space. On the flip side it could be a great in for them as Microsoft eating up the low end of the market was always going to be a sore spot for their OEMs and Microsoft still seems committed to the idea from a purely technological point of view.

The Surface 3 might not be seeing me pull out the wallet just yet but there’s enough to like about it that I can see many IT departments turning towards it as the platform of choice for their mobile environments. The lack of an RT variant could be construed as Microsoft giving up on the RT idea but I think it’s probably more to do with the confusion around each of the platform’s value propositions. Regardless it seems that Microsoft is committed to the Surface Pro platform, something which was heavily in doubt just under a year ago. It might not be the commercial success that the iPad et al were but it seems the Surface Pro will become a decent revenue generator for Microsoft.

ASUS Zenbook UX32V Review: Ultrabooks Are What All Laptops Should Be.

I was never a big fan of laptops. By their very nature they’re almost sealed systems with nearly all of their components being integrated meaning your upgrade options are usually quite limited. Back in the day when upgrades came on a regular 12 month cycle this essentially meant buying a whole new system, something which a then 4 part time job working student like me couldn’t really afford. However as I was required to do work abroad, usually for weeks at a time, a portable computer became something of a necessity and that culminated in me buying a MacBook Pro 2 years ago. I hadn’t replaced it yet since it was still managing to do everything I needed it to do but part of the perks of winning the LifeHacker competition was that I was given a shiny new ASUS Zenbook UX32V to cover TechEd and, of course, take home with me.

Now when I got the MacBook Pro it was among the slimmest and lightest 15″ laptops you could get. Whilst its a far cry from many of the laptops I’ve had to use in the past compared to the Zenbook it’s something of a tank being almost twice the thickness and weight. You can put a lot of this down to the MacBook Air inspired design aesthetic as well as the 2″ smaller screen but even with that taken into consideration its still quite striking just how small and light the Zenbook is. I can quite easily hold it in one hand and type on it with the other, something that I would most definitely not attempt with my MacBook Pro. When carrying it around for long periods of time this weight difference is an absolute godsend as I barely notice it over the regular weight of my shoulder bag.

It’s featherweight status comes from the extensive use of aluminium in the body and top part of the monitor rather than the reams of plastic that’s common in similar ultrabooks. This means it doesn’t feel like something you’ll break if you look at it the wrong way and although its really only been on one trip with me it’s endure enough abuse that I can safely say that it’s just as durable as my older, chunkier MacBook Pro. It’s also quite user servicable too with iFixIt giving it a 8 out of 10 rating much better than many comparable ultrabooks.

What really impressed me about the Zenbook however was the incredible hardware specs that ASUS managed to cram into this tiny form factor. Underneath all that aluminium is an Intel Core i5 processor capable of ramping itself up to 2.6GHz (stock speed is about 1.7GHz). It also comes with 4GB of RAM which would typically be shared with an integrated graphics processor however the Zenbook is the first ultrabook to come with a discrete graphics chip, the NVIDIA GeForce GT620M. The Zenbook also comes with a hybrid drive that has a 28GB SSD cache that backs 500GB of spinning rust which is just the icing on this little powerhouse cake.

Of course since this little beasty was shaping up to the replacement for my current laptop there was one thing it needed to be able to do: play games. I have to admit that I was sceptical at first because I’ve fiddled with a lot of other small laptops like this before and not one of them was able to play games properly, that only seemed to come with systems that would kindly be described as luggable desktops. The Zenbook however managed to run pretty much everything I threw at it without a worry with games like DOTA 2 being buttery smooth at max resolution with all the settings cranked up to high.

One of the minor features that I feel bears mentioning is the amount of connectivity available on them. Now the Zenbook isn’t leaps and bounds ahead of similar models in this regard but the simple addition of an extra USB port (giving a total of 3) is something that I feel has been sorely lacking with nearly every laptop I’ve had. Heck even the semi-modern one I’m typing this on at the moment still only sports 2 USB ports which means that should I want to use my 4G dongle, external mouse and charge my phone at the same time I’m faced with the unenviable position of having to not do one of those things. You might not find yourself in that situation very often but I sure have, especially when I was running around TechEd and using all my devices to their maximum potential.

There’s a minor quirk that I feel bears mentioning which was initially picked up by one of my fellow LifeHacker competition winners Terry Lynch. When you first start up the laptop with its pre-installed Windows 7 OS you’ll get 2 partitions at are of roughly equal size. However should you decide you want to upgrade to Windows 8 and remove all the partitions instead of being presented with 1 500GB volume to format (like you’d expect from these hybrid drives) you’ll instead get 1 28GB partition and another 500GB one. From our testing its clear that the 28GB partition is the SSD and the 500GB is the platter based storage. This is great for splitting off your OS onto the SSD section and leaving the rest for data but it does seem a bit odd since the marketing would lead you to believe it was a single hybrid drive. I’m not sure if this is the case with other hybrids however, so if you’ve had experience with one I’d like to hear what your experience was like.

The ASUS Zenbook UX32V is an amazing piece of hardware combining the best elements of its larger cousins with a form factor that is just sublime. After using it for a couple days I had no issues making it my main laptop and when combined with Windows 8 (something I’ll talk about in depth at a later date) it becomes an amazing little powerhouse that feels like it was designed with this operating system in mind. I had never really considered getting an ASUS branded laptop in the past but now I’m having trouble thinking about going for anything else as it really is that good. If you’re after a portable rig that can still do everything that a regular PC can do then you don’t have to look much further than the Zenbook.

MacBook Pro Review: It’s Apple All Over.

I’ve never been that much of a fan of laptops mostly for 2 reasons. The first is that it’s not particularly feasible to build one yourself should have the desire to do so and for someone who’s hand built every PC he’s ever owned this was a bit of a sticking point. The second was that I never really had a use for an on the go computer that lacked the power of my home PC, apart from those times beloved LAN parties where I’d lament hauling the heft of my PC around. Still I’ve been the owner of several of these devices for various reasons, most of them work related unfortunately,  so it’s not like I haven’t had experience with this platform. However I found myself in a rather peculiar situation where I was in need of an Apple computer and a portable device for travelling. Whilst I didn’t rush out and buy one right away it did finally come time for me to bite the bullet and purchase an Apple product and thanks to my contracting company’s financial arrangements the 15″ Macbook Pro was the same cost as Mac Mini with all the required trimmings. So I ordered myself one and just on a week later it arrived at my door in all it’s Apple splendour¹.

As always Apple is the master of utilitarian packaging with the box containing nothing more than what’s required to use the machine. Honestly after being showered with with miscellanea from all the computer bits and pieces I’ve bought for machines it’s always a bit of a shock just how little Apple includes with their products, even the really expensive ones. Still apart from the adapters and possibly the free games I’ve never really used most of those things, but it’s still nice to be lavished with “freebies” when you’re shelling out this amount cash. Hell even my $800 Gigabyte T1028 came with a free carry case.

The laptop itself is very easy on the eyes with Apple’s distinctive industrial minimalist design philosophy distilling away any unnecessary aspect. Even with the entire main body being machined out of a single piece of aluminium it still has a decent heft to it weighing in at about 2.5KG. The keyboard (whilst it takes a little getting used to if you’re used to more traditional laptop keyboards) is well built, backlit illuminated and has a good feel about it. I had no problem bashing out 1000s of words on it over the course of the past month and have yet to meet any sticky or unresponsive keys. The screen is quite nice and whilst I was initially going to go for the matt screen my game developer friend convinced me otherwise. It has given me some trouble in high light situations but it hasn’t been as bad as I had thought it would be. Overall the Macbook Pro gives a very solid first impression.

However it’s not all roses with the new Macbook pro. The first thing I noticed was the power brick. Now whilst I like the magsafe power connection (saved me a couple times from dragging the brick along the ground) the power brick itself is made in a way that you can’t use standard figure 8 cables with it thanks to an in the way connector. It’s mostly an aesthetics thing as the supplied connectors (a direct wall plug and 2m cable) serve to complete the power brick’s shape. Similarly there’s a distinct lack of interconnectivity ports with only the bare minimum being provided. Sure it’s adequate for the most part but there have been several times when I’ve wanted to plug in more than 2 USB devices (thumbdrive, iPhone, camera) and had to store things temporarily on the hard drive in order to get what I want done. Still both of these are minor complaints compared to what I consider the biggest flaw of them all: the aluminium body.

For the first month or so it’s life my Macbook Pro sat on top of my regular PC where I’d remote into it to get any work done. There were only a few times when I actually used it as a laptop and never for extended periods of time. However when travelling there were many times I’d be in front of it for an hour or so and that’s when I started to notice just how sharp the edges are on the bottom half of this laptop. After a while of using it I noticed just how much they were digging into my arms and any further use just made it worse. The only solution I’ve found is to use it on your lap with the keyboard angled down about 45 degrees so that my arms don’t touch it. This also brings with it the problem of it heating up your nether regions to ungodly temperatures making a cushion or laptop stand mandatory.

On the specification front I’ll admit that I was expecting a lot when I bought the Macbook, considering I shelled out for the fastest 15″ model with a 2.66 i7 and a NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M. Being as I received this laptop during the height of my Starcraft 2 addiction I decided I’d install said game on it to give the graphics card hardware a workout. The game plays buttery smooth on my nearly 2 year old main PC so I had thought it would be cake for my shiny new Macbook. Unfortunately at the same settings the framerates I was getting was almost half of that of my aging rig² even with the newest drivers from NVIDIA. A few tweaks later had it running better (definitely playable) but it still paled in comparison to the machine it sat atop of.  I had also copied across my World of Warcraft installation but since my account is currently inactive I’ve yet to give that a go but I’d hazard a guess that it would be quite playable.

Battery life is actually quite astounding, especially when you’re using OS X. With mild usage I was easily able to get 6~7 hours on a single charge and even with 1080p video playing I was still able to eek out just under 4 hours, enough for 2 movies on long flights cross country. Strangely enough even a base configuration of Windows with all the Bootcamp drivers struggled to get close to half that, although I think that’s related to Windows not being able to switch to the low powered graphics as the native OS X does.

The Macbook Pro is everything I’ve come to expect from Apple. It’s well designed, minimalist and over all expensive when compared to similar offerings from other companies. With size, weight and battery life being  critical factors for many it unquestionably excels in these areas. However it is marred by it’s high price, underwhelming performance and lack of interconnectivity options. Still the trifecta small size, comparatively light weight and uncanny battery life do make the laptop suitable for a wide range of people and I can’t deny the build quality that’s gone into this Macbook Pro. So if you’ve got the cash to burn or can swing a finance deal like I did the Macbook Pro will do you well, just don’t expect it to perform on par with it’s similarly priced cousins.

¹Just in case anyone was wondering why I’m doing the laptop review separate to the operating system review it’s because they’re 2 very distinct products and warrant being investigated on their own merits. Plus the Macbook can run Windows so there’s no real reason to lump it in with OS X.

²It’s specs are Core 2 Duo E8400, 4GB RAM and a Radeon 4870 just so you know 🙂

Don’t Anthropomorphize Computers, They Hate it When You do That.

My parents always used to tell me that bad things came in threes. When I thought about it there was always 2 other bad things that would’ve happened around the same time so it seemed to make sense. Of course it’s just a convenient way of rationalising away coincidences as something bad will always end up happening to you and the rule is so loose that those three things could cover quite a large time period. Still yesterday seemed to be one of those days where I had at least three things go completely tits up on me in quick succession, sullying what would have been otherwise quite a cheerful day. The common thread of this whole debacle was of course computers; the one thing I get paid to be an expert on are most often the cause of my troubles.

The day started off pretty well. My MacBook Pro had arrived yesterday and I cheerfully went down to the depot to pick it up. A quick chat and a signature later I had my shiny new toy which I was all too eager to get my hands onto. There was enough for me to do at work that I wasn’t completely bored yet I had enough time to not feel pressured about anything. A few good emails from close friends ensured that my not-so-secret project was on track to actually be useful to some people, rather than just me deluding myself into thinking that. It all came undone about 15 minutes before I was about to leave work and cascaded on from there.

Part of the environment I’m responsible for went, for lack of a better word, completely berko. People couldn’t access machines whilst others just refused to start. After spending an hour trying various solutions I knew that I wouldn’t solve this problem within the next 3 hours so I decided to set up some things that would hopefully get the system to rectify itself and ran out the door as quickly as I could. After getting stuck in traffic for nearly an hour I was finally at home and ready to unbox my prize that I had been waiting a long time for, and it was well worth it.

Whilst I’ll do a full review of the MacBook Pro a little later (once I’ve got to know it better) I will say that it’s quite a slick piece of hardware. After fooling around in OSX for all of 20 minutes I fired up BootCamp and started the unholy process of installing Windows 7 on it. To Apple’s credit this process was quite smooth and in under an hour from first unboxing it I was up and running without a single hiccup along the way. After declaring that a success I decided that I should reward myself with a little Starcraft 2, and that’s when my PC got jealous.

You see I have a rather… chequered record when it comes to my personal PCs. They almost always have their quirks in one way or another, usually from me either doing something to them or not bothering to fix or replace a certain piece of hardware. My current desktop is no exception and up until recently it randomly suffered from a hard drive that would erase the MBR every so often along with being slow as a wet dog in molasses. Before that it was memory problems that would cause it lock up not 10 seconds into any game and before that it was a set of 8800GTs that would work most of the time then repeatedly crash for no apparent reason. Anyone who talked to me about it knew I had a habit of threatening the PC into working which seemed to work surprisingly often. I wasn’t above parading around the gutted corpses of its former companions as a warning to my PC should it not behave, much to the puzzlement of my wife.

For the most part though the last couple months have been pretty good. Ever since upgrading the drives in my PC to 2 Samsung Spinpoint F3s (faster than Raptors and cost almost nothing) I’ve had a pretty good run with the issues only being software related. The past few days though my PC has decided to just up and shut itself down randomly without so much of a hint as to what went wrong. Initially I thought it was overheating so I upped the fan speeds and everything seemed to run smoothly again. Last night however saw the same problem happen again (right in the middle of a game no less) but the PC failed to recover afterwards, not even wanting to POST.

You could say that it was serendipitous that I managed to get myself a new laptop just as my PC carked it but to me it just feels like my trouble child PC throwing a jealousy fit at the new arrival in the house. My server and media PC both know that I won’t take any of that sort of shenanigans from them as I’ll gut one of them to fix the other should the need arise. My PC on the other hand seems to know that no matter how much shit it drags me through I’ll always come crawling back with components in hand, hoping to revive it.

My house is a testament to that adage that a mechanic’s car will always be on the verge of breaking down. My PC deciding to die last night was frustrating but it then also let me indulge in some good old fashion hardware ogling, filling my head with dreams of new bits of hardware and what joys they may bring. My quick research into the problem has shown there will probably be an easy fix so it’s not all bad. Still at 10:00PM last night part of my head was still screaming the rule of three at me, but I managed to drown that out with some good beer and an episode of Eureka.

Now to prepare the sacrificial motherboard for the ritual tonight… 😀

MacBook Pro, Why Did it Have to be You?

Apart from work issued laptops I’ve never really owned my own personal portable computer. A couple years back I did purchase a $300 laptop off ebay in the hopes of transforming it into a carputer however the unfortunate happened and it gave up the ghost a couple weeks after I bought it. Since then I’ve shunned most laptops as I’ve never had a reason outside work to have one, but all that changed recently when several different cosmic forces conspired against me to push me towards my ultimate decision, the MacBook Pro.

Coming up at the end of the year I’m getting married (yay!) to my lovely fiance. We’re going on our honeymoon to location X (no one but me knows where it is, ha!) and if it’s one thing that I’ve learnt from my friends who’ve travelled the world is that pictures and memories will only take you so far. When the first of my group of friends jetsetted overseas he was presented with a travel journal to chronicle his trip. This was long before any of us considered blogging or similar as it was still really in its infancy back then. So I resided myself to get some kind of portable computer to take along with us, not for entertainment just to write in of a night time. Hence I decided that I needed something that was light and compact with a decent battery life. At this point in time I was looking pretty squarely at a netbook as they tick all the boxes and are cheap to boot. I was thrown a requirement curve ball not too long afterwards however.

Enter my budding web application Geon. After showing it around to everyone the consensus was that the end game I was aiming for would be shot in the foot if I didn’t target the iPhone. Since I can write off one phone a year as a business expense the prospect of buying an iPhone isn’t such a bad prospect for me (and really if I don’t want to use it my fiance will gladly take up the opportunity) so I’d resigned myself to getting one once I had matured Geon to a level where I felt iPhone uses would want it. Thinking that such a widely used device would have development environments available for all platforms I set off looking for one so I could have a play.

Oh how wrong I was.

Turns out the iPhone SDK is only available to those who have a Mac to develop on. There is talk of some people running it on Windows using some creative hacks however it doesn’t appear to be all roses for them and 99.999% of the resources I found online make no mention of anything else other than a Mac environment. The cheap option here would be to buy a second hand mac mini but since I’m in the market for a Mac of some description and a laptop it’s going to be better to get something that can cover both requirements.

So I’ve resigned myself to get a MacBook Pro and whilst I initially struggle with the idea of shelling out so much cash for a laptop I’ve come to appreciate what I’ll end up getting. For the same specifications the MacBook Pro is incredibly small and light. Couple that with the new battery which lauds 8 hours of life (I’d be happy with 4  when specs like it has are involved) and it’s a pretty decent machine. Plus thanks to Boot Camp I can happily hide MacOS away if I want to delude myself into thinking I bought a silver Dell or something for a while.

I’m even slightly tempted by the 128GB SSD upgrade option for $288. That’s not too bad with all things considered.

Now where did I put that turtleneck……