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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Oh, by the way, a laptop too!

With all the technology running through the house lately, I never got a chance to post about my other new toy: An HP Pavillion dv6000 laptop.

Here was my thinking: Now that we're a multi-PC househould (the super-fast desktop PC in the home office and the previous office PC in my son's room), we might as well setup an actual wireless network in the house. And what's a wireless network without being able to access the network from anywhere in the house? Ergo, we need a laptop.

This was unfamiliar territory for me, because it meant buying a PC that wasn't tricked out to do anything I may ever imagine doing with a PC. After all, I already have the desktop PC for that. Instead, this machine would serve more of an "appliance" function. It'd be the machine we keep in a drawer in the den, so we can surf the web or check our e-mail while watching TV, or the machine that my wife would use when she's doing some work from home while taking care of the kids. So it had to be cheap and competent, as opposed to expensive and awesome.

Stop #1 was Every computer I've ever bought for myself has been purchased through I know some people have had troubles with them, especially lately, but my experiences have all been good (knock on silicon...). It turns out, though, that Dell doesn't do "cheap and competent" all that well. The cheapest laptop I could configure from Dell with my minimum requirements came to more than $1,500 every time. Very odd. So, I found myself doing something I haven't done since my parents took me shopping in grade school - going to a computer store to buy a computer.

My first instinct was Best Buy. Large store, big selection, and if you're lucky, some competent sales people who can answer basic questions about the products. I can't say I was disappointed in this regard. I learned a lot of about laptops and about Windows Vista there, and actually decided on a laptop: a Gateway, 17-inch machine for just $700. Quite a steal. So good, in fact, that they were sold out of it and couldn't predict when they'd get more. I left the store empty handed.

My next stop was CompUSA. By this time, I knew exactly what I wanted: a 15-inch screen, Windows Vista Home Premium, at least a Pentium Duo chip, 1GB of RAM, a graphics card with at least 200MB of dedicated RAM, a decent (but not huge) hard drive, and whatever other bells & whistles they could throw in. CompUSA had the HP Pavillion dv6000 for $700, plus $150 for accidental damage & warranty for two years (for most devices, I ignore these packages, but a laptop has a higher chance of being dropped, spilled on, etc., especially with kids in the house). So, I came away with a new laptop for $850, all-in. A little more than I hoped for at the outset, but still a pretty good deal for a brand new PC.

I'll post later about my thoughts on Windows Vista, my experience with wirelessly networking the two machines together, as well as my thoughts on file sharing (Vista on the receiving end and Windows XP as the host - not exactly a common configuration these days). But I'll close this post with a quick word for my Mac-friendly friends on the topic of "it just works."

When I opened my laptop, the first thing I saw was a piece of paper that said (I'm paraphrasing here):

Congratulations on purchasing your new HP laptop. The first time you turn it on, your laptop will optimize Windows Vista for you, based on your answers to a few simple questions. During this process, the laptop screen may go dark for short periods of time, and the computer may appear unresponsive. Do not turn the machine off during this time. The process will take approximately 25 minutes.

I plugged it in and turned it on. It asked me for basic ID info (name, address, phone number) for the purposes of registering with HP, and it asked me for my timezone, preferred language, etc. to setup Vista properly. Then, it went to work. Most of the time, the screen had "feel good about the machine you just bought" advertisements on it. Occasionally, it did go dark as the paper said - including a couple of automatic Vista reboots. In the end, though, exactly 25 minutes later, I was up and running with my new laptop. It really could not have been simpler.

So, there you have it. My new PC is still in boxes in my living room, but I'm already a full-fledged Vista user, and a bit of an expert on wireless networking and file-sharing. Turns out the laptop served the unintended purpose of training me to be my own IT Support desk, before attempting the big job that awaits tomorrow.

Should be fun...

posted by Brian at 2:35 AM


  • Remind me to do a Mac OS clean install in your presence someday. I was thinking "a piece of paper???" and "25 minutes???" just as you were saying "it really could not have been simpler".

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 8:43 PM, March 03, 2007  

  • You're right. "Couldn't have been simpler" was an overstatement. They could have done exactly what I did at the factory, and handed me the laptop completely ready-to-use. I assume there's a good reason for not doing that, but I don't know what it is.

    As for the piece of paper, I look at that as points towards their Mom & Dad test score. You and me - we get a new laptop, we pop it out of the box, turn it on & watch what happens. Mom & Dad, they want to see something that says "Read This First." ESPECIALLY if it's going to run some setup routine for 25 minutes...

    By Blogger Brian, at 12:44 AM, March 05, 2007  

  • ESPECIALLY if it's going to run some setup routine for 25 minutes

    Exactly my point. Boot up a Mac for the first time, and all you get is the registration/setup forms (and they're not perfect, but they also don't make you wait for an hour). There's lots of things a Mac needs to do on first boot, but they all take place in the background *after* you get to the OS and you can start playing.

    The "piece of paper" is a short manual with lots of pictures, which (naturally) can be skipped entirely or read depending on the type of Mom & Dad your Mom & Dad happen to be.

    Heck, now I want you to buy a MacBook just so you can unbox it....

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 3:38 PM, March 05, 2007  

  • The desktop PC came with the picture-filled manual (it's actually a poster size, fold-out piece of paper with step-by-step instructions to get started. Same deal - people who know what's flying can ignore it, although to be honest - it's so simple that I found myself following the steps anyway...

    As for the laptop, running setup stuff in the background sounds a little dangerous to me (unless you can guarantee that whatever it's setting up won't be accessed while it's running). In any case, though, an extra 20 minutes the first time you turn a machine on, amortized over the life of the machine, doesn't strike me as a particularly good reason to recommend one machine over the other...

    By Blogger Brian, at 11:53 PM, March 05, 2007  

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