Monday, May 26, 2008

New Laptop for The Chris

So, I've needed a new laptop for months now; but work has not been forthcoming with the new gear. Last week I learned that it would be at least another couple months until budget was cleared for a new box; in the mean time my battery life is down to 20 minutes, my screen is about as bright as a GI flashlight with a 10 year old set of rayovacs, I'm on my fourth power supply, and my third hard drive.

Now, I run linux on my laptop, and connect to work using a windows virtual machine, with an approved enterprise operating system image, patches, applications etc...

Hell, half the reason I run on a VM, is because it lets me keep backup snapshots very easily; and move them to another machine if I have a problem, rather than losing my ability to work. I make note of this specifically, because in fact I have had MANY problems, and in fact lost my ability to work for more than a day each time. Since I went to the VM system, I haven't lost any work time.

I'm currently working on a three year old ThinkPad T43; a 15" 1280x1024 machine with a single core processor, and 2 gigs of RAM. Generally speaking, that works out reasonably well memory loading wise; but the disk I/O performance is pretty bad, and the CPU isn't that great with the VM running (it's just fine when I'm not running the VM). The video is the standard low end integrated Intel solution, and it's got a DVD drive, but not a recorder. Oh and it's only got a 60 gig hard drive.

Those last three factors are actually more than a bit irritating for me.

Now, what I NEED in a laptop, is a LOT of memory; a fast, multi core processor; a big, fast hard drive; and a comprehensive wireless and wired networking setup (preferably including GigE and wireless N). Importantly, I also need a chipset that has Linux support.

As y'all know by now, I'm a bit of an A/V nut as well; and I've got thousands of movies, dozens of them in HD formats (we're getting close to 100 I think). Blu-Ray of course is now the winner in the HD sweeps; so that's what we'll be buying in the future (though I still have about 40 HD-DVDs).

I'm also a gamer, a photographer, an occasional video and sound editor; and I tend to travel a lot (though not recently). I'm not TOO concerned about travel weight or bulk though; and I don't spend too much time away from power sources.

So, in addition to what I NEED in a laptop, I WANT a big screen and a good video subsystem, with discrete video and plenty of video memory. I also want a BluRay drive, some type of media in and outputs (HDMI would be good), and an HDTV tuner would be nice.

Oh and I REALLY NEED a good, full size keyboard, and a big wrist rest. I type for as much as 18 hours a day, and a substandard keyboard kills a computer for me. I simply cannot use it.

Finally, I have a personal preference for a three button mouse, and a pointing stick. I don't really like touchpads at all; they're imprecise, and they have this iritating tendency to suddenly reposition my mouse pointer or cursor somewhere I didn't want it; either because my palm or thumb hit them, or maybe just for no reason at all (in actuality it's because many laptop chassis flex a bit, and when they do sometimes it makes the touchpad think it's being manipulated).

The reason I like trackpoints specifically, is because I don't need to move my hands from their keyboard position in order to use the pointer, or the three buttons (at least in all recent ThinkPads).

So, as you can tell, I'm pretty demanding. For the last few months I've been tracking on a higher end ThinkPad model, which had pretty much everything I wanted, except for the tv tuner. The only problem is, it would be about $1800, even after a hefty sale price discount (laptops go on sale constantly. If you dont like the price on one today, wait a few weeks).

Well, coincidentally, the same day as I found out I was going to have to wait, I also got a notification about this:

That, is an HP pavilion DV9830US. It's a 1.83ghz core 2 duo, 17" 1440x900 screen (which means I can watch 720p at full resolution, but not 1080p), 4 gigs of RAM, 320gb hdd, BluRay drive with DVD burner, GeForce 8600 discrete video with 512mb of video ram, GigE and wireless N, an HDTV tuner with HDMI (and two different windows remotes, one portable, one for the house), firewire, 4 usb 2.0 ports, a theoretically surround sound system (it's all a software codec, and there's no discrete output, but it will output over the HDMI), an integrated web cam, and what is by all reports an excellent keyboard (with a discrete numeric keypad, which I honestly don't care about. I never use 10key).

Oh, and all that for $1250.

I did the research, and that is the cheapest (and highest specced) "high range" manufacturers laptop with native BluRay, and discrete video. The next cheapest is $200 more, and lower specced. Also, the thing gets great reviews.

Now, my experience with HP laptops has been hit and miss. Some of them have been great, some have been crap. My experience with HP tech support and warranty service is similarly mixed.

So, I'm worried about the keyboard, worried about it being an HP, and I don't care for touchpads; but given all the features, and the uniformly positive reviews, I'm cautiously optimistic.

I should have it in by Wednesday; here's hoping. If anyone has a direct experience with one of these, or a similar model, let me know.