RABiD BUNNY FEVER
I will be having nightmares about faulty laptop hardware for years to come
So for all of June and half of July this year I was in Canada for a really big contract. It was a very intense and taxing (though rewarding!) project that basically tied me up 24/7 for the whole duration, minus the little sleep I could afford, and acquiring food. Unfortunately, during this time, during a very hectic and somewhat dangerous part of the job, my Dell XPS M1730 laptop took a grand fall and cracked open. To its credit, it lasted for 10 more days, which completely saved my butt. During that time it only had minor touchpad problems which required a reboot when they started happening, but then it completely bit the dust on the final day of the project (I coped) due to, I believe, an electrical short somewhere on the motherboard.
The previous laptop I had the pleasure of using for 3 years was a Dell XPS M1710, which I absolutely loved in every way, besides the constant hardware failures and having to get replacement parts sent out each time they occurred. It conveniently bit the dust just before its warranty was up, so I was sent the previously mentioned M1730 by Dell as a replacement, which was unfortunately a refurb[ished], and never worked very well. Because of this it had no warranty, and coupled with the sub-par performance, I decided it was time to consider it totaled when it stopped working, retire it, and get a new laptop.
The new laptop process however ended up taking about 6 weeks to complete due to horrible hardware failures and service. My requirements for a laptop were very specific and there were only about 5 laptops on the market I could find that even fit my specs, which was very disappointing. Within those 6 weeks, I have had the chance to use and review 3 separate laptops, each from different companies, and will be including my positive and negative points about them below (in regard to the many other laptops I’ve used over the years). It can be assumed that anything that is not mentioned is as expected.
Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q888 TruBrite 18.4-Inch Laptop
- Supplier: Bought from Amazon for ~$1,600. A full refund was issued upon confirmed hardware failure by Amazon (otherwise a restocking fee is applied). It was sent out immediately and received within 1 day.
- The reason I was forced to return it was the monitor went bad in less than a week. The monitor would sometimes turn on after boot or a resolution change, but would always turn back off within 5 seconds. During the short spurts it was on, the colors were way off on half the screen. I did a lot of tests using an external monitor to try and fix the problem, but determined it was an unfixable hardware issue.
- Media/control buttons were located on the left side of the keyboard. They were touch sensitive buttons that were way too easy to trigger accidentally. Simply relaxing my left hand usually caused it to brush and trigger one of the pseudo-buttons. I had been planning on writing a little utility that required either a double tap, or a prolonged hold, to trigger the keys, but ended up not needing to due to having to return the laptop.
- The power cord disconnected way too easily. It probably averaged coming out of the power slot about 3 times an hour with little movement of the laptop.
- It had very bad overheating problems consistently, but especially when playing games. I believe this might have caused the failure of the monitor.
- The speakers would cause the volume to fluctuate very randomly so music was always distorted as it increased and decreased in volume every few second or so.
Dell Studio 17
- Supplier: Bought from Dell for ~$1,800 including extended 3 year mid-tier warranty and a few hardware upgrades. A full refund was issued upon return. Dell originally lied to me about the amount of time it would take to arrive and I almost canceled the order before it was sent out because of this.
- The media buttons were in a very unobtrusive place (the best of any laptop I’ve ever had).
- The laptop was probably half the weight of any other laptop I’ve had of its size, and the power supply was probably about a sixteenth the size of any power supply for same said previous laptops.
- Dell has absolutely ABYSMAL phone support. It’s outsourced to India and the “representatives” are completely unknowledgeable and virtually unintelligible. The representatives and managers have absolutely no power to get anything done, and even the managers are now Indian so you can’t even escalate to a comprehensible conversation. The representatives do virtually nothing but read prompts from screens, and for knowledgeable computer users, it’s painful to explain to them you don’t need them to try and diagnose the problem as you already have, but they want to guide you through their script via the phone anyways. During the calls for this laptop I was even told at one point I would have a 2 hour wait time to talk to a manager, and I experienced so many dropped calls I stopped counting. Dell support was the worst in the industry 2 years ago. Since then, it’s gotten twice as bad. I will never use or recommend Dell again to anyone for this reason.
- Before I gave Dell my credit card number and committed my order, I had been told by the website the laptop would ship immediately and I would have it within 2 days. Immediately after I committed to buying it, the website suddenly told me it would instead take OVER 3 WEEKS for me to receive it. I was flabbergasted, and this was the reason I spent hours with phone support over many days trying to get this fixed. I finally decided to cancel the order and get another laptop on the 6th day, but I guess due to my demands, they actually shipped it right before I was about to call, aborting my attempt. It arrived 8 days after I made the order, which still caused me major problems.
- The hard drive had major freezing problems, which is what eventually made me return the laptop, as I did not want to have them send me a completely new Chinese assembled one, as it would take forever and most definitely be a refurb. The freezing even occurred during BIOS, and it often took up to 4 minutes to resume from hibernation.
- The ATI video card was less than optimal compared to the nVidia cards on my other recent laptops. It just wasn’t performing in games.
- The power cord was ridiculously short, was prone to falling out (not nearly as much as the Toshiba), and had a power led on it that was much too bright (it actually kept me up at night if left on).
- The speakers were in a horrible spot on the palm rests. Having my wrists in the proper and comfortable position for the keyboard covered them up causing bad distortion and dampening.
- The touchpad was far too big and had no dead zones in the touchpad driver properties. Because of this and the horrible over sensitivity of the pad, it was very hard to use as it often stopped working when it detected “multiple touches”. Even an apple charger cord barely touching it made it stop working.
- There was no property key or pause break key (Even via a “Fn” key combo).
- There was no indicator light for the caps and num locks.
- Many of the keys started squeaking after a few days.
MacBook Pro 17-inch
- Tired of horrible hardware from other companies, I decided to give in and get a MacBook Pro against my better judgment. It has turned out to be the keeper simply because I’m tired of dealing with finding a laptop and I hear they have spectacular technical support including (supposedly) often receiving your laptop back within 3 days of sending it in for hardware replacement!
- Supplier: Bought from Apple for ~$3,100 including extended warranty and a few hardware upgrades whole sale (RIDICULOUSLY expensive). However, I had a 15% friends and family discount through a friend who is an employee of Apple bringing the total down to ~$2,600. There is no way I would have gotten it without the discount, but even with, it was still hideously expensive for what you actually get. I received it within 7 days as I was told.
- It actually has a 1920x1200 (WUXGA) resolution! Both of my previous Dell’s had this, but the only 2 computers I could find on the market currently with this that fit my specs were the MacBook Pro and an Alienware (which is Dell and also ludicrously expensive). The next step down I was forced to accept on other computers was 1920x1080 (Full HD/FHD/1080p).
- The magnetic power connector is WONDERFUL. It never falls out!
- The visible battery meter on the side of the computer is kind of nice, but I doubt I’ll ever use it.
- I was able to get a matte screen for an extra $50. I HATE (but have always had to deal with) glossy screens because you often can’t see them if the sun is shining on your screen, and they are fingerprint magnets.
- The time the computer can run off of battery seems pretty amazing. Windows is reporting almost double the amount of battery time as normal laptops, which seems to be accurate, though I have not fully tested this.
Cons: (Most all regarding running in Windows on the MacBook Pro, which is what I pretty much only use it for)
The touchpad has virtually no settings and works absolutely horribly in Windows.
- Some example settings most all other touchpads have, some of which are available for this touchpad in OSX include: sensitivity, dead zones, and scroll zones.
- The available settings in Windows are: Tap to click, dragging, drag lock, which bottom corner is considered a secondary click, two fingers resemble a secondary tap.
- The multi-touch nature mixed with the absolute farce that is the Windows drivers for the device is what causes the main problem. There are no separate mouse buttons, and it’s basically unusable to utilize the bottom left and right sides as buttons with all the glitches. I think I might end up trying to write my own drivers for it for Windows soon, and if that doesn’t work, I will attempt finding a mouse buttons peripheral I can plug into via USB.
- The touchpad will not allow a right (secondary) click while another finger is also touching it, and the secondary click via 2 tapped fingers is very unstable. It also seems right clicking sends a left mouse down event (but not a left mouse up event), which often cancels context menus.
- For the touchpad to be usable I have to make sure to keep only one finger on it at a time or it gets buggy.
- I did research on the Apple multitouch touchpad a few nights ago and apparently Apple didn’t really support using the touchpad at all in windows until like 2009, and that was only a token gesture as they just don’t give a shit about the drivers, only making them barely usable to allow advertising Windows compatibility.
The keyboard key set is only a subset of a normal keyboard and missing a ton of keys:
- No number pad (though many laptops do not have one)
- A few of the missing keys are: Page up, page down, home, end, print screen, insert, delete (only has a backspace labeled as delete). Missing keys are mostly all replaced by “FN” key combos via Boot Camp, though not all of them are listed in the Boot Camp help file.
- Due to the missing keys and the non standard layout of the Mac keyboard, I used KeyTweak to remap a good number of keys for my purposes. There is also a program available in the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools that accomplishes the same task, though with a worse GUI, called Remapkey.exe. Both of these programs just modify a registry value that has windows natively remap the keys. I also had to use a modification of my HalfKey Project for some other key remappings.
- The “Fn” and “Eject CD” keys are hard wired and can’t be remapped through the above method. This has caused me a lot of annoyance so far as “Fn” and the left “Control” keys are swapped from standard layouts.
- There is no way in Windows to disable/mute the startup sound when the laptop is turned on (which I find incredibly annoying and embarrassing in public venues). Fortunately, this can be fixed by running the 3rd party StartupSound.prefPane configuration dialog in OSX just once.
- EFI adds another layer that can be used as a security weak point, invalidating my last security scheme. It didn’t work off the bat anyways as the EFI wouldn’t boot to the USB running GRUB, as I believe GRUB for EFI is required.
- The keyboard backlight doesn’t work until the OS has loaded making the keyboard unviewable in dark situations. The monitor brightness is also unadjustable until Windows loads, and uses the last brightness set by OSX.
- There are no drivers for the light sensor in Windows (though I personally don’t care about that).
So Microsoft sold us [company I am currently working for] a copy of Visual Studio 2010 Professional with lies about what it supported (Windows Mobile Legacy Versions [including CE]). When we complained, they spouted how VS2010 supports the newest version of Windows Mobile (Windows Phone 7), which doesn’t even exist yet (they promise a release in “Holiday of 2010”, I’ll believe it when I see it, as this is not the first missed expected deadline). Now they refuse to give us a refund on VS2010, or even let us buy VS2008 from them instead, as it’s “a legacy product”, even though we need it because it DOES support windows mobile legacy versions.
Microsoft has done this kind of thing to me, people I know, and pretty much everyone in the world too many times to count. They will never be receiving my business or money again. It feels great to see Google beating them hands down in every market Google decides to compete with them on.
Time to see if we can’t switch over to Linux or Android on these handheld systems as an alternative... (though unfortunately they seem to be locked in to running Windows CE *sigh*).
[Addition on 6/17/2010]
And Microsoft lied to me once again, though at least this time I was expecting it. I later found out I also had an MSDN subscription that came with VS2010, and called in to activate it, as online activation wasn’t working (don’t even want to mention all the mistakes they made during THAT process). I was told on the phone during this proceeding that the MSDN subscription license I had was compatible with the “VS Pro MSDN (Retail)” license, and was pointed to a list of products I could download from the MSDN Subscriptions page as soon as my subscription was activated (which took 3 days...). Low and behold, this was not true and I can not download many of the things I am needing and was planning on getting when the subscription came through (including VS 2005 or 2008), as the license is not compatible at all with what they told me.
Microsoft thrives on lying to their consumers and knowing they can get away with it. Microsoft specifically targets CEOs and tells them how important it is that they make their shop 100% Microsoft, giving completely falsified numbers and arguments to support this mockery. Microsoft jams their advertising so much into the heads of these non-tech-savvy individuals that when their IT staff tells them anything against the loud spoutings of Microsoft, the truth is lost in the wind, and even sometimes loses jobs. I have seen this happen at multiple companies, and have seen Microsoft’s lies and falsified reports more times than I can remember.
This somehow needs to be stopped.
I have a friend that has a legacy Geocities (the MySpace of the 1990s for free web hosting) account (one from who knows how long before GeoCities was bought by Yahoo). The control panel (at geocities.yahoo.com/gcp) won’t allow logging in to his legacy account because it gets stuck in an infinite redirect loop, redirecting right back to itself.
My guess is that the problem has to do with cookies (on Geocities’ servers’ side, not the client’s!), but I didn’t get that far, as I found a roundabout solution to his problem. After logging in, the user can go to http://geocities.yahoo.com/filemanager or http://geocities.yahoo.com/v/fm.html to manage their files. While the rest of the control panel is still not accessible, this was enough of a solution for him.
Reports are that Yahoo refuses to respond about this problem with their servers.
Continued from Part 1. Once again, I received another notification of a friend joining from an email I gave to the LinkedIn system. I contacted LinkedIn before writing the previous post on the topic with the following message:
Information about your Contacts
I decided to search for accounts through your "Address Book Contacts" function, and manually entered my email contacts. I only used this function to find existing users, and not invite new ones. I expected the information to be immediately deleted from your servers, as it had no more use for the contacts I gave, but I found out today they were still there when one of said addresses was used to sign up a new account and LinkedIn informed me of such. While this is a nice feature, it would have been appropriate to allow the user to opt out of having LinkedIn keep the emails for further use, and downright shady that the user is not informed at all that given email addresses are kept by LinkedIn on your servers.
In order to invite others to connect with you directly in LinkedIn, you will enter their names and email addresses. This information will be used by LinkedIn to send your invitation including a message that you write. The names and email addresses of people that you invite will be used only to send your invitation and reminders.
And this is the non-auto-generated response I received back 2 days later:
We are aware of the issue you are currently experiencing and we are working diligently to resolve the issue. We appreciate your patience while this issue is being resolved.
I thought it obvious from this reply that they did not take what I said into consideration, and a high probability that they didn’t really even read it. I mentioned in the last post this exact thing happened to my friend who was trying to communicate with LinkedIn about a problem he was having with errors with their site code. This kind of thing is typical from large corporations that receive a large amount of communications and do not have the staff to handle it. I consider this practice almost as bad as out-sourced tech support (usually India), another pet peeve of mine, as communication is often hard and the tech support agents often don’t know what they are talking about... at least very much more so than when with other first-tier tech support channels provided in-country ^_^; . I went ahead and contacted eTrust a few days ago in hopes that I get a more personal response from them.
So I’ve been rather perturbed for a very long time at the 50/50 inbox/outbox limit of stored SMS text messages in all LG cell phones. Other phones have similar limits, like a Samsung I have is limited to 100/50, and it just erases messages when an overflow occurs, as opposed to the nice prompts on my LG VX9800, with its QWERTY keyboard, which I love.
I have done some minor hacking on cell phones and tinkered with the firmware, but without a proper emulator, I would never be able to find out where the 50 cap is set and be able to make a hack for phones could store more.
So today, I was at a Verizon store [unimportant ordeal here] because I got a little bit of water on my LG phone and it was having issues. Immediately after the spill, it had a bunch of problems including the battery thinking it was always charging, buttons on the front side sending two different buttons when pressed, and some other buttons not working. I immediately set to shaking it out at all angles to get most of the water out (which there wasn’t much to begin with...), and then I thoroughly blow dried every opening into the inside circuitry. This fixed everything but the worst problem, signal dropping. Basically, the phone would lose any connection it made after about 5 seconds, so I couldn’t really answer or makes calls. Fortunately I was still able to send and receive SMS messages, but received ones didn’t signal the server they were received, and I kept receiving them over and over and over until a connection finally stayed open long enough to tell the server I got it.
So I took it back to the store to see if they could fix it, and all they tried was updating the firmware... but they said I could trade it in for another phone for $50, which I figured from the beginning is what I would have to do, and was a good idea anyways because of this [temporarily down].
So they realized they had no replacements in stock... or at the warehouse... for the VX9800 OR the VX9900, which they said they’d upgrade me too if they couldn’t find and VX9800, and I wanted (yay). So I was told to call back tomorrow and try again. Bleh. Anyways, I was at the store where I found out why this was. Apparently, cell phones start slowing down considerably with too many stored SMSs. I was told of a lady that had come in the previous week with 600+ stored messages and the phone took very long intervals to do anything, and clearing it fixed it.
I know that, on my phone at least, each SMS message is stored as a separate file, so my best guess as to the reason for this problem is that this creates too many entries in the file system for the phone to handle. This seems like a rather silly and trivial problem to work around, but the cell phone manufactures can get away with it, as they have no good competitors that fix problems like this.
This is why we really need open source cell phones. There have been word of open source phones in the works for years... but nothing too solid yet :-\.
So ANYWAYS, I had already started taking a different approach in early January to fix the problem of backing up SMS messages without having to sync them to your computer, which is a rather obnoxious work around. I had been researching and planning to write a BREW application that extracts all SMS messages into a text file on your phone so that you don’t have to worry about the limits, and could download them to your computer whenever you wanted, with theoretically thousands of SMS messages archived on your phone. Unfortunately, as usual, other things took over my time and the project was halted, but I will probably be getting back to it soon.
I’ve been a long time fan and user of Seagate hard drives, as they are the only brand that have consistently not failed me, like Maxtor, Western Digital, and others. The first Seagate drive that I ever had die on me was almost 10 years after its first use. This trend seems to however not follow to its FreeAgent external USB drive line. I was a bit iffy on trying them out, as I had read online before buying that they had a seemingly high failure rate on arrival. Low and behold, I ended up buying one from Office Depot around Thanksgiving, as $100 for 500 gigs seemed well worth it, and it was dead on arrival. I think it ended up passing maybe 1 out of 5 trial formats. So I swapped it out, tried another, and it was DOA too, passing its format and scandisk, but then failing out on multiple sectors when I tried to use it (I am super obsessive about data integrity). So I gave up on those. My fears since I had heard that Seagate bought out Maxtor, the probably lowest quality hard drives on market, had been confirmed, though probably for different reasons. I did however recently buy a new SATA Seagate 500 gigger @ ~$100 and it seems to be working fine ^_^.
Random Trivia: Gigabyte is actually technically supposed to be pronounced “jigga-byte” as in jiggawatt from the Back to the Future movie(s). The suffix has just been mispronounced for so long, no one seems to know that Back to the Future actually had it right :-). I found this out after watching a video from the early 80s on hard drives, and then confirming from multiple dictionaries and sources.