Thursday, March 01, 2007

Laptop hunting

Hey all. The last few weeks have seen me scouring all over the net and on foot, searching for a new laptop to replace the one already have. There's nothing wrong with my current laptop - except for maybe the inadequate battery life, and maybe its heft - I just thought that it was time to see what I can replace it with. So off I went to research the current laptop offerings, and got bombarded with "core2duo" this, and "aeroglass" that... In the end, I was paralyzed with indecision - the new Microsoft operating system had also just started shipping with new laptops, but the response have been mixed. Indeed, do I even really need a new computer?

As a scientist, part of my job involves taking pictures of cells under a microscope. Now, I had just started working at a new place, and they use a digtal slr ie. something expensive and unfamiliar. Unfortunately, I'm a point-and-shoot guy at heart, and though I do like to dabble with the settings on my own digital camera, this was for work, and I didn't want to waste any time fiddling with settings. So I snapped away, checking the images briefly (on a teeny tiny 1.5 inch screen - way too small for me), and loaded them up on my laptop. Unfortunately, it seems that the LCD backlight on the camera was cranked way up, coz on my laptop, everything was severely underexposed. Crap! I had two options: take the photos again, but trying different settings (too fiddly), or I could try and boost the brightness using an image editing program (bingo!). Long story short, my 2 year old, celeron 1.5Ghz laptop with 768Mb of RAM and 40Gb HD performed like a star. Multiple layers, filters, having up to 20 or so images open (though just at 0.5Mb each pic) - there was no discernable lag, no crashing, no weird results. Then I also remembered that when I went on a roadtrip with some friends, I used the same laptop to download the video from my camcorder (via firewire), create a roadtrip video (with live preview activated), added a soundtrack, and played it in front of everyone that very night!

In the end, my laptop might look as sexy as a grey paving tile (and look/weigh like one), but as much as I'd like to find fault in it (to justify a replacement), I couldn't deny that it was a solid performer. Hell, even with intel integrated graphics, I can play World of Warcraft and Freedom Force (a very cool game, I encourage everyone to check it out), record, edit and encode HDTV (with my HDTV adapter), and create a dual monitor setup by outputing simulatenously to an external monitor!

So this is my advice to anyone contemplating a laptop/portable computer purchase: Laptops may not be created equal, but unlike what the manufacturers would have you believe, it doesn't necessarily mean that you won't be happy with anything less than the latest and greatest. Its not all about clock speed, especially with laptops. Battery life, portability and flexibility should definitely be considered, as well as the cost of extras, such as accessories, and extended warranties.

Based on those criteria, I reckon that my next laptop won't be a laptop at all, but an ultra mobile pc (UMPC) . In particular, the Asus R2H has caught my eye. At the moment I'm still researching how this device will perform (at $1850AU, I wouldn't want to end up with something I won't use) - I may even wait a little, to see if the price goes down a bit more, and maybe wait till it ships with Vista. Sure, I could upgrade it myself, but I'd rather leave it to the experts and not have to scour the net for device drivers - Kevin Tofel, I am not. Til then, I'll try to make do with my laptop as my primary computer, and use my pdas (hp ipaq h2210 with wifi sdio card and rx1950) for my mobile computing needs.

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