Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Honey! I Shrank The Kids (' PC) !

Before everything else: greetings to all at the Haddonfield Stitch 'n' Bitch, and thanks to them all for their concern for my wife. They're totally wicked good!

Once upon a time there was a student of Electronics and Electrical Engineering. He worked hard and diligently on his simulation and, when the specification was ready and his supervisor had approved it, he sent it off to be processed by the University SuperComputer.
Next day he received a communication in his computer mail-box (email as we know it now hadn't been invented then) inviting him to come and visit the head of his department. With some trepidation he went, to find his professor, his department head, and also the head of his school awaiting him. Obviously this wasn't to be a good day !
He was told of the bad news ... his simulation, which was supposed to have lasted about 10 cpu-seconds, had taken up the entire college's allocation of time for the rest of the year! [oops]! Oh well: it actually wasn't his fault, they agreed - he's exposed a flaw in the simulation program he was told to use. However, he wasn't to use that system again. Excretia, as they say, happens.
A little later in life this same student was working at a famous and prestigious institute when the decision was taken to change computer systems. The old one occupied a room and had two operators always on-call. It was removed one day and in its place a man arrived with a panel truck. He brought a desk and two crates out of that truck. He opened the crates and pushed the two white boxes (on wheels) inside out into the room. After the crates were removed, a terminal was put on the desk, the two boxes connected to each other and the terminal, and the whole lot plugged in and switched on. That was it! 250 square feet of computer gone in a morning !
The first of these three computers had about a tenth of the power of the second, and was kept in a dust-free room. The last, ten or more times more powerful again, came in a couple of boxes. I'm sure you can see where this is going.
The next project saw our intrepid engineer working with mini-computers to process CAT scans into 3-D images for doctors to do diagnoses and radio-therapy simulations with - something that the SuperComputer couldn't have done ten years before. At about this time he was given his first PC ("Personal Computer"). It was a surplus PDP-11 in 3 19" racks, each about 80" tall. Very cool, and he didn't need any heating in his apartment that winter!
The project after that saw him replacing a small mini-computers with first-generation PCs (because they were faster, more robust, and more easily re-programmable).
Since then, PCs have become more and more capable. IBM's original architecture has been expanded but shows remarkable longevity. Right now I develop on a 17" Acer that's about 2 years old and suddenly in dire need of a re-install of Windows. My Christmas present to myself last December was an Asus 1000ha in what was called "red" by the advertisers. Of course, it is more "pink", as you can see in the pics, so The Better Half appropriated it on the spot!

I got this just as it hit the market, in December 2008. There were lots of glowing reviews at the time, all of pre-release versions, so how has it stood up to three months of use? Has it actually been useful for three months??

The Review
First off, lets look at it in a purely (sort of) quasi-scienific way. Here are the good bits:
  • The price - $350 plus another $30 for a memory expansion
  • The size - 10.5 x 7.5.
  • The weight 3 lbs. The battery is denser than the rest of the machine, is rounded, and is at the back, so it's a nice place hild it when it's being carried
  • The hard drive - 160 GB is a good hefty size, especially for a machine this size.
  • The pouch that comes with it - and the micro-fibre cleaning cloth !
  • The resilience. I wouldn't suggest playing basketball with it, but it fell off my wife's hospital bed a few days ago and hit the iron table feet on the way down. Ouch! I feared the worst, of course. It looked like screen was trashed to begin with, but, believe it or not, it seems to be recovering ! There's just a small pair of lines there now (4 days later) and even they seem to be fading. Will I get a replacement screen? yes. Do I really need it ? Not really, but when I do they won't be available, so ...
  • The resilience again ! The case wasn't even scratched, and the hard drive is fine.
  • The long battery life. It isn't the boasted 7 hours, but 4 hours is fine by me.
  • The camera.
  • The software - MS Works kinda sucks but is good for compatibility. Star Office is great and should be bundled with more PCs. It does pretty much everything you want for an office suite. All the other software works perfectly. That's a novelty in this world!
  • The SD card slot! I was wondering how to get some pix off my camera without paying a fortune ... and then I came across this little slot ! I promise you - I didn't realise it was there for 3 months !
  • The screen resolution. It's good, but if you tell it you have a huge screen it'll believe you and then let you use the screen you can see as a sort of a porthole into what is suddenly a huge screen. A little weird to begin with but really useful for having lots of things up at the same time and not getting in each others' way.
  • I'm recording all my old LPs and cassettes onto it and then burning them onto CDs. Totally easy and lots of cpu speed for that. Tip: Use Blaze RipEditBurn Plus. Right now it's $40 and worth at least $80.
  • It picks up Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) more easily than any other PC I've seen.
And here are some bad bits:
  • It doesn't come with a mouse. There are virtually-flat mice these days, and it wouldn't be too hard to create a mouse-hole !
  • The keyboard isn't quite big enough for me. Mind you, neither is a full-sized one, so maybe I'm just clumsy ! Maybe they could revive the old IBM ThinkPad expanding keyboard ?
  • The hard drive. They split it into two partitions!!!! Mind you, they're equal, so C: is bigger than most Dell servers have !
  • The fact that the wife / girlfriend will appropriate it almost as soon as they see it - yes, it really is that cute!
  • It's slow. But that was mainly when I'd installed MS SQL Server on it. AfterI took that monster off it ran great again. Let's face it, it's not server material but, then again, would you lock 25 things as cute as this up in a rack ?!
  • I want another one but have to wait. This is definitely the biggest beef!
The Verdict
I like it. I like the general ease of everything about it. I got the Windows version because I needed to use certain specific programs with it, and I've found it totally adequate for everything I've asked it to do.
I have to admit that I like the attention it gets ! Pretty much everywhere either I or my wife have used it we've been accosted by people asking about it. Not just young people or geeks, either. Little kids looking for info so they could harass their parents for one - grannies with white hair interested in it and whether they can push their children into buying it for them !
All in all, this is a hit machine. Somewhat of a chick-magnet, like a chocolate lab, but with a serious inside, like a chocolate lab who's also a guide dog. Eminently desirable; if you're looking for a new PC, look hard at this. Also, don't forget that if you don't want the laptop format, that it also comes as a desktop - equally neatly packaged! These guys must have Jonathan Ive moonlighting for their design department.

The bottom line? Buy it.


jane said...

that thing only cost $350.00. i'm totallu getting one!

Michael Irwin said...

Go to Amazon for where I got mine (the laptop). For the desktop, try http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=&sku=589495&Q=&is=REG&A=details for the desktop. The desktop is seriously cool too, and I suspect I'll get one of those next - to reduce the clutter underfoot!

It'll be back on view in Haddonfield on Tuesday.

Tan said...

Paul is thinking about getting this computer, so thanks for the review.

And thanks for the info on Tola's wild ride with gallstones. Her blog doesn't come up on bloglines due to the login requirement, so now I have you bloglined so I keep up with the Philly Factor.

Michael Irwin said...

Hi Tan. Thanks for the comment. Don't forget to check out the desktop one - it's cheaper, smaller, and internally identical - great if you have spare monitors/ keyboards, and mice hanging around, like I do. You still get the e-storage, so you can chuck stuff into thin air, so to speak, and get it all back later from somewhere else.