Sunday, February 17, 2008

Time To Say Goodbye To An Old Friend

I finally got round to replacing my work laptop. For three years I've been using a Fujitsu-rebadged-as-a-Dell machine that, until recently, has served me well. Alas, in the past six months it has slowly started to sink into old age and decrepitude, taking over 20 minutes to boot to the point where I can run applications. When using it during the day, I can actually watch the cursor stutter as I move the mouse. To say this is frustrating is a severe understatement, as the whole office will attest ...

Don't ask we why things got as bad as they have. Don't even ask me why I've stuck with it for so long. Loyalty? Debt of service? Stubborness? Probably the last one, but none of this matters as I focus on shifting my allegiances to my new workmate: a Toshiba Portege R500.

How's the transition going? Not badly, just slowly. Really, I wish Microsoft would come up with a way to reliably move applications without having to try and resurrect from disk or soft-drive - i.e. my brain - how on earth I set half this stuff up in the first place. Add to that the challenge of Vista ... oh yes, this baby has her vices ... and before you know it entire days have passed in order just to get things up and running that work perfectly well right now on my old machine, albeit glacially slowly.

Initial impressions of the Toshiba are that it's light, weighing in at less than 3 lbs, with a decent keyboard and a screen that's very good, if not quite at the level of what the Sony Vaio can deliver. Power consumption is also a strong point, seeing me get 3 hours or so of use out of the standard battery, and using the "performance" power profile rather than any of the ones that are designed to be more frugal with the juice. However, I can't for the life of me work out how to have the thing switch power profiles when I go from mains input to battery use. Used to work fine on my old machine under XP, so go figure. (Please post me a comment if you are an owner who *has* got this to work!) But now for the bad news: the two "mouse click" bottons either side of the touch pad would disgrace a five buck plastic kid's toy. They only give any tactile feedback of a "click" if you hit them dead centre, anywhere else and it feels like the things have got stuck. Very poor design on a high-end laptop that's over $2k once configured with a decent amount of memory.

Vista? Still buggy. In just a couple of days of incidental use I've got apps flaking out, the machine getting stuck in a loop when trying to sleep and some weird networking behaviour that I still haven't got to the bottom of. I'm hoping that SP1, now due in March, fixes most of these but even so it really is embarassing to Microsoft to have these basic, low-grade annoyances in an OS release that's been out something like a year. Not good, but something you can get away with if you have > 90% market share I suppose.

On the plus side, one feature in Vista that does seem worthwhile is ReadyBoost. Just throw-in an external storage card and Vista can use this as additional cache, significantly speeding up applications that crave memory space such as, to pick a couple of examples at random, Lightroom and Photoshop! Well worth the $25 I dropped on a high-speed 2 Gb SD card.

All-in-all, then, from a hardware perspective - mouse buttons aside - it seems like a decent buy so far, but Vista is no way ready for prime time. Microsoft should hang their heads in shame at shipping such a buggy release, especially after God only knows how many man years were sunk into the development & testing of this thing. I'll stop now before my blood pressure goes off scale ...

1 comment:

J said...

Quick update: there is one thing I find quite frustrating about this thing, namely the touchpad. Beware that when typing text it's all too easy for your thumbs to graze the touch pad, sending the cursor off into some other part of the message, or worse pulling up another window completely. Short of just paying a lot of attention when writing anything, I can't find a way to really fix this. There is no alternative pointing device you can use, leaving you with just the option of carrying a separate mouse. Sure, you can turn the wick down on the sensitivity ... but then it won't serve the original purpose anymore.

Your mileage may vary, but this is a real and continual nuisance when working on it as a laptop.