Thursday, June 05, 2008

Beast's Lair...

Been a while since my last computer talk. At the end of February my wonderful boss let me replace the POS (not Point Of get my drift) system I had with an XPS 420. Since I often have as many as 8 web pages, 3+ spreadsheets, 2 email clients and IM all going at once I was sick of the old system (P-4, 1.6 GHz, 512 MB ram) locking up under load and desperate to try two monitors. After this one arrived I bought a new 24" for home and brought the extra one to add to the new system. Here's the Beast's work cave:

It's been a good system overall. Here's the specs:

XPS 420
Core 2 Duo E8500 @ 3.16 GHz
ATI Radeon HD 2400 Pro w/ 256MB
300 GB hard drive

Raw speed is awesome...makes me wonder how much better it would be with XP but Vista was the only choice. Don't get me wrong, Vista is pretty and slick but some of the new stuff left me wondering "now why in the world would they change that?" why does it now take an extra step to get to display properties? ...for that matter why did they split the display properties window with it's tabs into a web page with icons? ...and why when you attach a file to a message using Windows Mail (OE7) does the button at the bottom of the box say 'Open' when on all previous versions of Outlook Express it says 'Attach'? ...I could go on and on but it's more evidence to me that programmers don't spend enough time in the real world talking to real people about how they really use computers before they design things.

While I'm on bad stuff: the video driver has an annoying habit of failing every few days causing the system to uncontrollably reboot. Did this the first day out of the box. Doesn't matter if it's one monitor or two, fancy or simple background, with or without sidebar. Sometimes it will go days and work fine, sometimes it will crap out several times in one day. Upgraded to a new driver from ATI just after I got it, same problem. ATI just came out with another new one far so good. On the plus side hardware wise I can plug in any brand of MP3 player or Camera and Vista handles it, so far, with no fuss and no special 3rd party software.

On the plus side Vista does keep better tabs on your files and has a vastly improved search feature. The Documents window (old Windows Explorer) is much more informative. It's easier to customize your view and column needs based on what your looking for. Pictures and music are easier to access. I'm mainly stoked about the speed, though. I can have a dozen things open and active, PC-Cilin kicks in a scan and I don't even notice it. This system isn't that much more powerful than my year-old XPS 410 running XP at home. I can't tell much difference in single app performance from one to the other but Vista really shines at multi-tasking. It's supposed to make better use of multi-core processors and as far as I can tell it works as advertised.

Before I got this I read horror stories about people being pestered to the point of suicide by the security warning. For me the solution was simple: Firewall, Auto Update & Malware Protection all on; User Account Control OFF! and let the 3rd party Security do it's job. No more pestering. In fact, no more annoying than XP.

So what's the verdict?
Hardware compatibility: overall a C- (I would have expected this if I upgraded an XP system but, for cryin' out loud! They (MS, Dell, ATI) have had over a year to get together on this! Pull your heads out, guys! Oh-by the way: SP1 didn't do a thing. No problems but no help either.

Aesthetics: B (Vista is really nice looking--Sidebar and Sideshow are neat little toys but not very practical--but some of the change-for-the-sake-of-change stuff and the lack of thinking things through hold it back)

Performance: A+ (the overall system really screams...I never dreamed I could work my helter-skelter way and have a computer keep up with me. I spank it and it says "That all you've got, big boy?" kind of computer!)

Overall Grade: B+ to A- (the graphics driver thing would bother me more if I were doing heavy video or gaming, but for what I need at work my main appetite is well fed)

My recommendation, for what it's worth: if your going to get a PC with Vista, go ahead but go full boar on the hardware. I skimped on the graphics and sound because I don't expect to do any gaming or heavy multimedia stuff here but now I wish I had gone the extra for a top end video card. BTW: PC-Cilin kicks Norton's and McAfee's butt for usability and has none of their in-your-face look-at-me-or-I'll-lock-up-your-computer arrogance. It also caught a couple of things in email and file archives that I transferred over from the old system that Norton had missed. AND-two monitors ROCK!!! You couldn't pay me to go back to one monitor!

The overall system works great for me. I went light on audio/sound, middle of the road on graphics and upped processor and RAM. It really paid off. The only thing I might do is upgrade the graphics card if I keep having trouble with this this card only has one DVI and one VGA port. I'd like to get one with two DVI's.

Oh...that's my Beautiful Wife just over the top of the monitor. Yes, my wife and I work together. How can I stand it, you ask? Quite well, thank you very much, but...that's another post.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought my wife a laptop for grad school and it came with Vista. No choice ... I understand. It's ok for her use, but it can get a little frustrating. I hear SP1 is coming out soon. I can't wait to install it so that it runs smoother.


1:21 PM, June 06, 2008  
Blogger Laura said...

My husband uses two monitors at home and three at work. I use one in both places... I'm afraid if I went multi in one place, I'd have to go in the other - and doubt I could get my work to spring for a second monitor without some really good reason.

10:02 PM, June 07, 2008  

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