Sunday, September 17, 2006

The new Dell laptop

All these years I refused to buy a Dell computer. The first reason is how on earth can I buy something that I haven't seen and touched first? Dell does not have stores and demos, they online sell their equipment online and after placing orders. For example, how can you pick a screen if you don't see the colors first? What if the keyboard is too hard for my fingers? What if I don't like the design?

Second, their design is not that great. I prefer the vastly more beautiful Compaqs or Sonys over Dells when we talk about laptops.

But this time I bought a Dell Inspiron Core Duo laptop. Why?

My first laptop was an HP with a PIII 700MHz processor back from 1999. I was using it until 15 months ago as my main laptop and as my main computer whenever we went to Brokkhaven for experiments. It was performing poorly with its initial configuration, but I maxed out the memory (to the astonishing amount of 256MB max), installed a fast 7200rpm hard drive, and thereafter it would run Windows XP just great. Only once it failed me, when the graphics chip got bad and I had to replace it for about $300, but other than that it works perfectly even today, 7 years later.

So since my mother wanted a computer I home, I proposed to her to keep this laptop and I would get a new one. So for $1,300 I bought a Compaq Pressario with a 1.5GHz Intel Centrino on it. This guy, although faster that the HPm, it had two majot drawbacks. First, slow (4200rpm) albeit large (100GB) hard drive. But it was slow. It took a while to load windows. Even when I upgraded the memory to 1GB, it still needed several minutes to boot. Unacceptable.
Second, I couldn't play games. The build-in graphics card uses the RAM memory to store graphics, and that makes it painfully slow when you run Matlab, have a lot of Firefox windows open or play any decent game.

Thankfully my cousin Maria needed a laptop. So I decided to sell the Compaq last month, only 1 year after I bought it, and spend $1,100 to get a new one. I decided for the first time in my life to get a Dell for two reasons. First, only Dell had an option for a 7,200rpm SATA hard drive. The guy is super-fast! There is no noticeable lag due to the hard drive anymore.

Second, only Dell offered a 256MB GeForce dedicated graphics card. All the things I want to do are much faster now, plus I will be able to run Windows Vista smoothly when they come out in early 2007.

The design is pretty good, better than older versions, so I am fine with that. The cooling is better, although a Core Duo it doesn't get much hot. Overall, it is a huge advancement for me. It is amazing how technology has progressed over just one year: with less amount of money, simply within a year I can have on top of whatever my old laptop had : a second (and faster processor), 512MB more memory (and DDR2!), 256MB dedicated graphics card, 7,200rpm SATA hard drive, Bluetooth...

What did I loose? The screen, of course! The colors at the Dell are crappy. The screen is bright, but the contrast ratio is completely crap. Worst colors I ever had in a computer monitor. But I understand why Dell does that.

First, one would be able to tell the bad colors only if the laptop stood next to other laptops in a store. But Dell doesn't sell in -stores. So they don't have to spend their money on a better screen. Second, if Dell has to spend $100, and they have a choice to build a better system or a better screen, they will choose to spend them in the system because people may not mind a bad screen but they *will* mind if their system crashes!