Leif's New Laptop

 

This is my running commentary on my quest to find the perfect desktop replacement laptop. Hopefully, it will help anyone who is in the market for a new laptop as well.

 

17 March 2005

Wow.... Five years later, I'm making an update to this page. And guess what? I'm making the update with the laptop that this page is about. That's a pretty darn good lifespan for a laptop. I still use this thing pretty much every day. I've since upgraded the hard drive and memory, and added a wireless PCMCIA network card, but other than that, it's still pretty much the same laptop I bought. So let's see.... So far the only problems I've run into is that the plastic cover for the LCD is cracked (stress from opening and closing it), and the sound card stopped working. One other issue is the battery no longer holds a charge for more than about five minutes, but I never expected the battery to last that long anyways. A new one is about $150 and I plan on purchasing one shortly.



I just can't believe this thing is still so viable. I don't play any games really, but I use it as a full-on web application development platform. It's running WinXP, Apache2, PHP5, and MySQL4. It's a totally self-contained webserver and development machine. I use it not only to develop, but for presentations and of course web browsing and e-mail. All in all, this has been one of the best computer purchases I've ever made.

8 January 2000

Welcome to the last installment to this commentary (or at least I'm pretty sure it is). I've had a chance to play with my new laptop quite a bit, so I thought I'd share with you my opinions on whether it was worth the money and effort I spent in researching.

First off, let's go with the good:

  • The LCD was perfect! Zero defective transistor groups for pixels.
  • A very aesthetically pleasing package! Many of the other laptops I was considering looked extremely boxy, and well, just not sexy. Not that this should be one of your critical evaluation points, but if you just can't decide between two comparably equipped machines, you'll be very happy with its design.
  • The keys on the keyboard fit very well with my hands. Something my wife's Toshiba Dynabook sorely lacked. Every time I went for the Shift key, I hit the up arrow. The only problem I do have with this keyboard is the Fn (function) key is directly to the left of my CTRL key. I tend to hit that often. The good thing is that the Fn key doesn't do anything without a secondary keypress to go with it.
  • It's fast! I have absolutely no problems running the applications I want. With the 128MB of RAM, I also do not have any problems running all the applications I want open at the same time.
  • The 4X DVD is great, and the software is well written. With the S-Video output jack, it looks great on my TV too.
  • I've only had one serious crash (meaning a power-off reboot required), and that was when I was attempting to play MechWarrior3 at a friend's house. However, it seems to be very specifically centered on that game, because every subsequent attempt to run that game has crashed in the same way.
  • The LCD resolution is 1024x768x24bpp, and the external monitor port allows me to run 1600x1200x32bpp. This is most awesome.
  • The laptop shipped with Win98SE even though the advertisement stated straight Win98. Kudos to Netlux for hooking me up.

Now on with the bad:

  • The 56K v.90 modem (built-in) is a WinModem. This means that it uses the CPU to do most of its dirty work. During a connection to the Internet, I can see some minor mouse stuttering.
  • The USB port is right next to the power connection. I use my dual-wheel USB mouse a great deal, and if I've got the laptop screen open while trying to fumble the USB connector into its jack in the back, the power cord always seems to be in my way.
  • The speakers aren't the greatest. My wife's Toshiba Dynabook has some very good quality speakers. The Netlux sounds just a little tinny, and I can't seem to get enough volume out of them.
  • The CPU fan forces air from the bottom of the laptop, so you can't set it on say, a shaggy carpet or a blanket (in bed)  for very long, because it'll get pretty toasty. Even though this fan only comes on intermittently, when it does, it is pretty loud for a laptop fan. It also resembles very much the sound of a hairdryer (but no where near that volume.)
  • The laptop did not come with the power management set up correctly. Such as pushing the Fn-F12 key for hibernate.
  • The audio chipset does not support DOS. Oh well, farewell thee Duke Nukem 3D.
  • The modem audio output wasn't enabled. I bashed my head on the table a few times trying to figure out how to enable it. I finally broke down and fired off an e-mail to Netlux tech support. While the answer he provided was incorrect, it did get me pointed in the right direction. Navigating to Speaker icon / Options / Properties allowed me to add volume/mute controls for a ton of stuff (including the modem). My volume control box via the speaker icon now has so many options that it is wider than my 1024 pixel display. <grin>.
  • Netlux overcharged me for shipping by $23.95 USD. It looks like I'll get a refund though.
  • The laptop might be a little heavy for some, but it is a desktop replacement grade laptop. I'm also a big guy, so it doesn't both me lugging it around everywhere.

Well,that's it. I hope this helps anyone who is in the market for a desktop replacement laptop. I love mine, and I'm sure you'll love your too!

 

19 December 1999

Well, I did it! I finally decided on a laptop. After countless hours spent researching the best laptop to meet my needs, I chose... drum roll please... the Netlux NX-6020/500D+ for $2999 + $45 for shipping. To read more about it, see the 28 November entry below.

Many thanks to those of you who submitted ideas and deals to me over the months.

 

5 December 1999

I really haven't discovered anything astounding since my last entry here, but I promised to provide some good laptop resources for you all.

The best place to get the scoop on different laptops is via usenet newsgroups. Just fire up your trusty newsgroup reader and mosey on over to the comp.sys.laptops group. Be prepared for the extremely large volume of traffic though. You'll glean all sorts of good info on shipping delays with certain companies, common problems/ likes / dislikes, opinions on quality as well as service, and tips on where the best buys are.

Of course, no good resource list is complete without a FAQ. EP Brown maintains a very good (although slightly dated) FAQ on things like what to look for in a laptop, care and use, security, and upgrades. Go check it out here.

If you'd like to read reviews by laptop purchasers just like us, then you might want to check out Notebook Review.

 

 

28 November 1999

Ohhhhh, it is just so hard to decide. You want the most you can have, but that costs. I've been so wishy-washy that my wife has stopped listening to me compare and contrast laptops. I think she just wants me to buy one and shut-up! <grin>

So let's take a look at what my laptop requirements are now:

  • Pentium III 500 MHz - 100 MHz bus - 256 KB on-die cache
  • 14.1 " XGA Active Matrix LCD
  • ATI Rage Pro 2X AGP Graphics with 8MB of SGRAM
  • Single 128 MB 100 MHz SDRAM SoDIMM
  • 12GB Hard Drive
  • 4X DVD-ROM
  • 3D Soundcard
  • 56K v.90 Fax/Modem
  • I/O 1 Serial -- 1 Parallel -- 1 USB -- 1 IrDA -- 1 S-Video out -- Ext. VGA port -- PS/2 keyboard/mouse port -- Audio in/out -- Mic in -- Port Replicator Port
  • Touchpad mouse

Graphics -

I decided to forego the 15" screen as I felt that the 14" was just fine in my hands-on tests, not to mention that the laptop footprint will be slightly smaller too. However, I really did like the Dell Inspiron 15" SXGA+ series as you could have LCD resolutions of up to 1400x1050.

I took a good, hard look at what types of applications I would be using and when. I think that when I really need the high resolutions will only be for graphics work, and most often, I will be sitting at my desk at home with the laptop connected to an external monitor capable of 1600x1200 anyway. Therefore, the ATI Rage Pro will be sufficient to provide 1024x768 LCD resolution.

RAM -

This one was the killer in almost every laptop I looked at. The prices have gone up quite a bit for RAM lately, and this showed. I have been heavily debating on whether to go with 256MB, but unless something major happens to lower prices, I would have to shortchange my laptop in another area to do this. So for now I'll stick with 128MB.

Hard Drive -

This was another difficult area as I really need quite a bit of hard drive space. Running four OSs with all of their complimentary applications is going to eat space very quickly. I believe 12GB will be sufficient for now, however, I will require a laptop in which the DVD-ROM is modular so that I can upgrade this later with minimum hassle.

My big plan for this upgrade would be to install the new hard drive in the modular bay, mirror the contents of the 12GB on to it, remove the 12GB and install the larger hard drive in its place. I'll probably keep the 12GB around as an external storage device.

DVD-ROM -

Because I don't play games very much, I don't need a super speedy DVD-ROM drive. Unfortunately, most desktop replacement grade laptops come with a 6X DVD-ROM drive installed. If I can find a manufacturer who is willing to swap that out with a cheaper 4X, then I could use the extra money elsewhere.

Modem -

I debated long and hard about this issue needlessly, as the answer to my quandary became perfectly clear to me one night. My problem was that I couldn't decide between having the modem hard installed, or as a PCMCIA card. I really wanted a combination 56K v.90 and network card, but they were expensive and only came in PCMCIA versions. I had to stay under $3000 USD, and this particular item was causing me to exceed the budget. My epiphany came when I realized that because 56K v.90 is pretty much the end of the line for analog modems, that I could get it hard installed (no upgrading), which would leave me with two open PCMCIA slots. Later on, when I really needed it, I could buy just a straight network PCMCIA card (pretty cheap nowadays) and have all the functionality I needed.

Conclusions -

So, who have I found that fits the bill so far? Again, http://www.netlux.com has come through. Their NX-6020/500D+ laptop for $2999 and $45 shipping makes them the perfect candidate. My big decision now, is do I wait to buy it closer to Christmas time where the prices will most likely go down, or buy it now so I can play with it on Christmas! :^)

I also noticed that last time I promised you all a list or great laptop resource links. Sorry, I forgot, but next time I promise you'll have them.

 

 

7 November 1999

My problem is that I generally run an enormous number of applications simultaneously which has the tendency to crash my wife's Pentium 266 - 64MB machine about every 2 hours. I had a similar problem with my desktop which was a PII 266- 128MB box. This, coupled with the fact that I do a good deal of 2D and 3D graphics work as well as some serious number crunching in other applications, has left the Celeron wanting with its limited 66MHz bus speed. I've also decided that since this laptop is going to be with me for a while, and it is going to be my primary machine, I might as well get a great one.

So with my pathetic excuses displayed for all to see as to why I asked my wife for a budgetary increase, I give you my new laptop specs. BTW, have I told you all just how much I love my wife? Even with my pathetic justifications, she increased my budget with a knowing smile. (probably knowing that I was about to become a permanent dish washing slave! :^)

  • Pentium III 500MHz (or PIII celeron)
  • 128MB SDRAM (100MHz) Single DIMM
  • 15" Active Matrix screen
  • 8MB AGP 2X graphics card
  • 14GB HDD
  • Combo 10/100 network / v.90 56K modem PCMCIA card
  • 4X DVD and 1.44 floppy
  • Decent sound, but it doesn't have to be awesome.
  • Touchpad mouse
  • I/O
    - 1S / 1P / 1 IrDA / 1 USB / 1 IEEE-1394
    - SVGA (15 pin out), TV out, TV in
    - Sound mic in, headphone out, line in

So far the best I've found is at Dell who adds just a few more things to their Inspiron 7500 class laptop.

  • The LCD is SXGA+ which means a native LCD resolution of 1400x1050.
  • Removable *combo* 6X DVD / 1.44 floppy
  • 3 year limited warranty

AND!!!

  • A huge 25GB ATA Ultra Hard Drive (believe me, I can fill it!) BTW, this is upgradable to 75GB with the addition of two more 25GB HDDs. However, this means that you would have to pull the combo DVD/floppy and you can't run it without an AC adapter! :^)

So how much is Dell's desktop killer?

Oh, about $4,282!!! errr. So it's a little out of mostly everyone's price range. I can still dream can't I? At any rate, I will still be looking for a laptop with the most bang for the buck.

For those of you wondering what I could possibly need this powerhouse for, I'll tell you.

In addition to the items I listed above, this notebook is going to be a multi-boot freak. It will have Win98SE/00, Redhat Linux, BeOS, and Freedows for operating systems. Why? Because I want to. Just having these four OSs will require a beefy hard drive, not to mention the associated applications to be installed as well. I'll also need a heavy processor for the number crunching, distributed processing projects, 2D/3D graphics projects and anything else I can throw at it.

Next week, I'll introduce you all to some great on-line resources for getting in the know about laptops.

 

31 October 1999

I thought that I'd bring you along on my quest to buy a new laptop. I'm planning on purchasing it around Christmas time, so I've got plenty of time to shop around. Hopefully, some of you will benefit from my research if you're in the market for a 'desktop replacement' grade laptop.

Here is what I am looking for:

  • Intel Celeron 500MHz or better
  • 128MB SDRAM
  • Minimum 14" Active Matrix LCD screen
  • Minimum 8MB AGP 3D graphics card
  • Minimum of a 6.4GB HDD
  • Built in 1.44MB floppy
  • Built in 4X DVD-ROM drive
  • Decent sound, but it doesn't have to be awesome.
  • Touchpad mouse (none of that eraser head stuff for me)
  • PCMCIA 56K V.90 modem (combined w/ network card would be nice)
  • I/O 1S / 1P / 1 IrDA / 1 USB / 1 IEEE-1394 / 1 Port replicator
  • External SVGA connector, sound mic in, headphone out, line in, S-Video
    out.

I want my drives to all be simultaneously installed, but if they are modular also, that would be a big plus.

So far, the best price I've found is at www.netlux.com for $2200 USD.

 

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