Sunday, February 10, 2013

I Am Envy-ous

Everyone always makes big plans for “When I get my tax refund”. If you’ve been following my blog the last couple of weeks, you’ll know that I chose to use my tax refund this year to buy a new laptop. I’ve written about the fact that it came with Windows 8 twice1. What I haven’t written about, though, is the hardware itself and how, so far, I’m very pleased with its performance.

I love my desktop PC. I built it myself and it has served me well these last few years. At 3GB RAM, 1GB Video RAM and a dual-core AMD 64-bit CPU running at 2.6 Ghz, it was built to play games and play games it has, from Tiger Woods, to NHL, to Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines to World of Warcraft - I have been entertained aplenty, and even managed to keep track of my finances and write a few blogs. Alas, I can’t tuck ye ole PC under my arm and carry it downstairs or take it with me when I go to North Carolina for holidays and visits or on vacation.

While it is true that I have a work issued laptop, there are two problems that present themselves. The first being rather obvious - it’s not mine; sure I’m allowed to use it for personal stuff, but if I ever had to turn it in for any reason, I wouldn’t want to have to remember to remove personal data from it. Secondly, not being intended for games it doesn’t have the power for it (I know, I’ve tried to play WoW on it and it was horrible). So I finally decided that having my own personal laptop where I can keep Quicken, World of Warcraft or anything the hell else I want and have access to those programs whether I’m home or not. Once I determined for a certainty that my tax refund would cover the cost, I headed out to buy a laptop.

Seeing as how whatever laptop I was going to buy would ultimately end up being a complete replacement of my desktop for everyday use, I determined that, even though I could get one with similar processor speed and RAM as my desktop for a few hundred dollars, it would make more sense to splurge a bit and get something with enough power to not have to worry about upgrades for quite awhile. That being said, here’s the side by side comparison for the desktop (tower) that I built several years ago and the laptop I bought three weeks ago:

Brand & ModelSelf built - using an Asus MotherboardHP Envy dv7-7292nr

(full data sheet)
CPUAMD 64-bit Dual Core 2.6GhzIntel i7 Quad Core - 2.4Ghz
RAM3GB DDR2 (4GB max)12GB DDR3 (16GB max)
Dedicated Video RAM1GB DDR3 (NVIDIA chipset)2GB gDDR5 (NVIDIA Chipset)
Hard Drive Space3 total - primary internal (contains OS and apps) =150GB, secondary internal (used for documents and music)  500GB; external (videos and movies) 500GB1TB
(NOTE: the document and multimedia drives on the desktop have been setup for network sharing so are accessible to the laptop via the home network)
Other StuffUSB ports - 4 on the back, 2 on the front and a 7 port powered hub.
NIC - 10/100
USB ports - 4 (3x 3.0, 1x 2.0)
Multi format Digital Media Card Reader
NIC - 10/100/1000
WiFi - 801.11 b/g/n

My desktop PC still works just fine, and in fact still serves as a file share on my home network and media player whenever I’m gaming on the laptop. The performance when playing things like World of Warcraft has been outstanding. It’s amazing to me just how much of a difference the two extra CPU cores and nine more gigabytes of RAM has made in gaming and multitasking. There are, of course some other considerations when evaluating a new machine.

Screen Resolution

The screen resolution on the HP Envy is phenomenal. My desktop has a video card with DVI outputs, but the laptop’s resolution is very impressive. It’s quite amazing to play a video game in HD.

Battery Life

Battery Life is advertised as “Up to 3 hours and 30 minutes”. I’m not stupid enough to actually let a laptop battery (or any Lithium Ion battery for that matter) drain completely dead if I can avoid it. But, I did allow the laptop on at least one occasion to run on battery until it was down to around 16%. That took roughly 3 hours, while also running WiFi connection to the Internet as well as powering the cooling mat I had it sitting on. So, apparently the advertised battery life is pretty accurate, but I don’t bank on it staying that way (batteries do, after all, wear out over time).


One of the primary reasons that I started building my own PCs a few years ago rather than buying “off the rack” was all the preinstalled software; what has become known as “bloatware”. The manufactures, as a selling point, add a bunch of “free, included” software. The new laptop is no different. The upside, of course, is that it can be uninstalled. It’s pretty rare that I find any of it useful. With the exception of the included software for the built in webcam and a few games, I’ll likely shitcan the bloatware on this thing.


Naturally, with a new laptop, it was necessary to pick up some new accessories. I despise using the touchpad on a laptop, so I had to buy a mouse. Laptops tend to get hot, so I picked up a cooling pad. Since it’s being used to replace the desktop, I picked up a HDMI to DVI adapter cable so I could extend the desktop to one of my other monitors when I’m in my home office.

Logitech Performance MX Mouse -

  • Comfort: A - not quite as comfortable as the MS Ergonomic Mouse 7000, but since my MS mouse died a horrible death over a year ago (don’t drink whiskey and troubleshoot your WiFi, kids; the result is a shattered mouse) and is not purchasable without buying the whole keyboard+mouse combo, this is the closest thing to it’s shape and comfort level I’ve found without also paying a ridiculous amount of money.
  • Performance: A+ - I’m not sure how one would rate performance on a mouse, per se. But this one works very nicely. I appreciate the extra buttons which can be programmed to my liking.
  • Battery Life: C (?) - only 3 weeks and I have change the battery? Every other mouse or keyboard I’ve owned has kept battery life for months. On the plus side, it has a built in recharge circuit to be able use use NiMH rechargeable batteries. While the online reviews of the recharge feature have been pretty bad, the upside is that the mouse will work with it plugged into the USB port of the computer even without a battery in it. I’ve given it a C rather than a D or F for now because, to be fair, I’m using cheap ass dollar store batteries, which could be the real culprit here. I also haven’t tested the rechargeable feature yet.

Targus Chill Mat + - Some reviews of this cooling pad have been less than stellar, but so far it’s done a pretty good job. When gaming, naturally, the laptop heats up a bit, so having an extra set of fans underneath it as well as a mat that tilts up to allow better airflow (and also helps with bringing the screen up higher) is definately a good thing. This cooling pad also includes a four port USB hub which comes in handy for me since I can leave my keyboard dongle attached to the mat’s hub - essentially, it’s probably as close to a docking station as I’ll get.

In all, I'm very confident in my choice especially considering that I had looked at Dells and other brands that cost the same or more for slightly lesser specifications.

~ JC
1. Previous Blogs in this series:

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Windows Ocho, Week 1

Last week’s blog was about my dealings with Windows 8 within the first 12 or so hours of having gotten a new laptop with it preinstalled. Now that it’s been a full week and I’ve had more time to familiarize myself with it, I offer my personal insights and discoveries regarding this much maligned version of the most widely used PC Operating System in the world.1

One of the biggest things I’ve heard friends and colleagues say they dislike about Windows 8 is the new Interface; they don’t care for they tiles. They think that Microsoft is trying too hard to make Windows 8 look like a tablet or smartphone Operating System. Then, of course, there’s the theory that only every other version of Windows has been worth a tinker’s damn, and since Windows 7 was very stable, it’s been sort of expected that 8 would be a bomb. I’ve also come across many articles online about Windows 8 annoyances, or how-to’s on making Windows 8 look and feel more like Windows 7. So, naturally, when I decided that it was time for a new laptop and knowing that anything that would have the kind of hardware I was looking for, would pretty much by default have Windows 8, I’ll admit I was a apprehensive.

That being said, opinions do matter to me, which is why I did a lot of Google searches for anything that would make me possibly reconsider getting a Windows 8 machine and settling for slightly lesser hardware specifications to get Windows 7 instead. However, when an old college friend who was notorious for hating Microsoft back in the 90s begins talking about how much he loves his Windows Phone (whose interface is arguably a precursor to Windows 8) and made the switch to Windows 8 on almost the very day it was released, that says something; like maybe the OS is actually pretty good and MS finally got their shit together to make such a convert? So, I figured I’d give it a shot, and within the first 24 hours I didn’t hate the interface, even if it was causing me some annoyances with having to figure out just where the hell stuff had been moved to (it should be noted, however, that I had the same bout of “why the fuck did MS to do that?” when I switched from XP to 7 a couple of years ago).

What I like about Windows 8:

  • Boot Time - OMG! Windows 8 boots up way faster than any version of Windows before it - I shit you not. Any time I’ve ever had to restart Windows in previous versions, I’ve groaned because I knew that it would take several minutes. So, naturally, the first time Windows 8 had to download updates (28 of them, in fact, because it was right after I got it home and turned it on

  • Start Screen and Tiles - Call me crazy, but I actually like the Start Screen tiles. I’ve long been a fan of using the Quick Launch toolbar because I hate having my Desktop cluttered with icons; so much so, that in Windows 7 and 8 I used a little trick to add the Quick Launch back to the Taskbar list of Toolbars. By putting the applications I use most often on the far left of the Start Screen, I get almost the same effect as using Quick Launch without using up space on the Taskbar. So, everyone elses least favorite part of Windows 8 is actually something I find in its favor (go figure - it was also the one thing that I thought I would hate about it).

  • Apps  - I’ve been using an Android device for a few years now, and I really love having access to various types of apps. With Windows 8, I get a similar selection of apps, both free and paid, some of which are the same ones I have on my HTC Incredible 2.

  • Windows Charms - By pressing the Windows Key + C, a menu will open on the right hand side of the screen which Microsoft calls “Windows Charms”. This gives the ability to use Search and Settings for whatever app is currently on screen (including the Desktop). The nice thing about this is that getting to the settings for any app is the same for each app instead of having to figure out how to navigate each individual app to find its settings/options.


  • Start Screen - Even though I mentioned above that I like the Start Screen tiles, I don’t like that I can’t change the background image from the stock selection of images and color schemes without first downloading a third party app such as Stardock’s Decor8. If the third party apps to do this were free, fine; but, while Stardock may only be around $5 US, I’m not willing to pay extra for functionality that should, frankly, be built in.

  • Apps - The selection of apps for Windows 8 still seems a bit limited; I can’t really blame Microsoft for this as it’s the fault of developers who have not (yet) created a Windows 8 version of an app that otherwise is available for iPhone or Android.

  • WinKey+Tab - I loved how, in Windows 7, using the Windows Key + Tab (as compared to the more traditional Alt-Tab to switch between applications) showed a kind of shuffle of all open windows. In 8, it displays a menu on the left side of the screen. Functionally, it does the same thing, but it lost its pizzaz in my opinion, so I might was well just use Alt-Tab instead. Also, WinKey+Tab treats the Desktop (the entire Desktop) as an app and doesn’t seem allow for switching between desktop apps so I still have to use Alt-Tab for that.

For another opinion on Windows 8 annoyances (not all of which I agree with) you can also read Laptop Magazine’s article, "8 Worst Windows 8 Annoyances and How to Fix Them".

Overall, I really don’t see what everyone’s bitching about. There’s nothing wrong with Windows 8. It runs what I need it to run, including World of Warcraft, not only just fine, but better (so far) than my Windows 7 desktop (admittedly, the hardware probably makes a bigger difference in that than the OS). Even the salesman where I bought the laptop admitted that they have a lot of returns on Windows 8 based computers because people “just don’t like it”. My opinion? They’re simply either too lazy or too stupid to learn the new interface - period! That’s not to say that there are things I would like to see Microsoft tweak with a Service Pack rather than waiting for 9, but overall, there’s nothing wrong with Windows 8 other than having to learn some changes in how to do some tasks.

~ JC


1. According to W3C, Windows, in its various versions, still claims well over 50% of market share globally -, while showing slightly different numbers, confirms this as well -