Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘deals’

Another cheap laptop on the way

Posted by Fred on November 21, 2007

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I’m apparently becoming king of Cheap Laptopia.  You’ll recall that I bought the Acer 5315 at Wal-Mart for $348, concluding that it was actually pretty good for everyday use (web, e-mail, office documents).  You wouldn’t want to do any serious image or video editing on it, and I had to spend another $150 to get Vista Home Premium and 2 GB of RAM installed.  But still, decent performance for under $500.  I was going to add a laptop on Black Friday, maybe the $399 Sony that Best Buy supposedly will offer.  That one is a 1.7 GHz Athlon dual-core with 1 GB RAM and a 120 GB hard drive.  But that involves spending the night at Best Buy, so instead I just ordered a Dell Vostro 1000 from Round Rock for $449.  You can actually get it for $399, but moving to $449 gets you Vista Home Premium, which is cheaper than a Windows Anytime Upgrade ($79).

The specs are not half bad:

  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core processor TK-53 (1.7GHz)
  • 15.4 inch Wide Screen XGA LCD Anti-Glare Display
  • 1 GB DDR2 RAM (Dell skimps and uses two 512 MB sticks – boo!)
  • ATI Radeon Xpress 1150 256MB HyperMemory integrated graphics
  • 120 GB 5400 rpm hard drive
  • 8X DVD+/-RW w/Double-layer DVD+R Write Capability
  • Dell Wireless 1390 802.11g Wi-Fi Mini Card

The nice thing about the Vostros is that they come free of trialware and crapware.  No need to uninstall Norton because its not on there to begin with.  I’ll bump the RAM to 2 GB, and use 667 MHz sticks instead of the stock 533.  That will add about $50.  Grand total should still be under $500.  Preliminary ship date is 11/28, so I should be able to compare the Dell and the Acer next week.

In Cheap Laptopia, you can’t do much, but you have more money for beer.

Update (11/26): Changed my mind about the Vostro.  Dell’s already shipped it, but I’m going to return it.  While I still think a basic laptop is good enough for my needs, I’m going to hold out for one that is a bit lighter and has a better processor.  I’d also like to find one with the Intel X3100 chipset instead of the ATI set in the Dell.  I was using a Toshiba with the Radeon Xpress chip, and the Acer with X3100 seemed better on that front.  Maybe I’ll even get a dedicated graphics card.  I struck out on Black Friday, but there’s always Cyber Monday.  Right now I’m tempted by the Gateway MT6916 ($759 at Circuit City) or M-6823 (currently $849 at Best Buy).  Those both come with a Core 2 Duo and X3100 graphics.  The 6916 has a smaller hard drive but more RAM.   The HP Pavilion dv6500t has also gotten good reviews (about $750 with a Core 2 Duo, 120 GB hard drive and 2 GB RAM).

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Amazon Customers Vote: a Wii for $79, Whee!

Posted by Fred on November 15, 2007

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Amazon’s Customers Vote promotion is back. As the site itself says, “the products that get the most votes in each of six rounds will be offered at ridiculous winning prices, and the runners-up will also be sold at slightly smaller discounts. (But they’ll still be sweet deals.)” General categories include video game consoles, photo and video, toys, high-def DVD, and two categories that defy description (what do a flat-panel TV, stand mixer and robot vac have in common?). Here are the current vote leaders:

  1. Nintendo Wii for $79 (55%)
  2. Panasonic SD-1 High-Definition Camcorder for $299 (54%)
  3. Razor E100 Electric Scooter for $29 (65%)
  4. Toshiba HD-A35 1080p HD DVD Player for $149 (46%)
  5. HP Pavilion TX1305US 12.1″ Notebook PC for $299 (62%)
  6. Samsung LNT4661F 46″ 1080p LCD HDTV for $719 (65%)

I voted for all of those except the Panasonic SD-1. I’d rather have the Panasonic L1 7.5MP DSLR instead. As these things always do, the discussions page has degenerated into XBox 360 vs. PS3 fanboyism. Why are people such idiots?

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The $348 Wal-Mart laptop – still not that bad

Posted by Fred on November 13, 2007

acerlogo.pngIt’s now been almost two weeks since I picked up the Aspire 5315 at Wal-Mart’s Not-So-Secret Friday sale, so time for another field review. The $348 laptop isn’t a $348 laptop anymore. Now it’s a $517 laptop, with these upgrades:

A few words on why these were necessary.  Vista Home Premium comes with a few features (see the comparison chart) I wanted to have that are missing from Home Basic.  The Aero interface is mostly eye candy, but the Flip 3D and Live Thumbnails features making managing multitasking easier.  Home Premium comes with an enhanced version of the Mobility Center, good for taking the show on the road.  I also wanted to take advantage of Windows Media Center and the Media Center Extenders (assuming I ever get an Xbox 360).  This laptop is more than capable of running Vista Home Premium – the Intel GMA X3100 chipset is DirectX 10 compatible and Aero-ready.  It’s a shame Acer didn’t install it to begin with, as the OEM cost differential is less than $50 even at retail.

The laptop functioned adequately on 1 GB RAM, but running Aero really requires more.  2 GB is just fine.  Unfortunately, most PC manufacturers scrimp on RAM, and it’s cheaper to spec two 512 MB sticks than one 1 GB one.  So to go from 1 GB to 2 GB you have to buy 2 GB and trash the 512 MB sticks already installed.  Or sell them on eBay.

The one huge issue with this laptop has been the ALPS trackpad.  The cursor tends to jump all over the screen, causing one to want to throw the laptop across the room.  There are several solutions to the problem.  You can either turn on “Tap Off While Typing” or turn off “Tap to Click” in the Mouse properties (right-click the touchpad tray icon and select Properties).  Some users have reported that turning on tap off while typing slows typing response speed and that you need to upgrade the graphics driver to solve that problem.  I tried the latter approach, but using the touchpad buttons is just too awkward for me.  There is also an ALPS touchpad driver (version 7.0.1101.11) available on the Acer site, but I’m not sure if that’s any different than the one already installed.  So in the end, I just repurposed the notebook mouse hooked up to the Toshiba and hit [Fn+F7] to disable the trackpad.  Problem solved.

The trackpad issue was the only problem with this laptop, and it’s a problem with lots of other laptops that cost a lot more than $348.  We’ve watched a full season of Friday Night Lights on the DVD drive, I used it to download and burn the ISO image for my new NAS, and it plays iTunes over the LAN very well.  I still say it was a steal at $500.

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The $348 Wal-Mart laptop: not all that bad, actually

Posted by Fred on November 2, 2007

I visited my local Wal-Mart this morning for the first of their Friday Secret In-Store Special sales. It was, of course, not really a secret. I decided to try to get the $348 Acer Aspire laptop, which seemed like a pretty good deal, knowing next to nothing about it. No model number, no specs, no nothing. The picture made it appear to be similar to the Aspire 4520-5803, an Athlon X2 dual-core machine with a 14.1 inch screen, 1 GB of RAM, 120 GB hard drive, DVD burner and Vista Home Premium. Wal-Mart sells that one for $568, so it seemed like a deal. That’s not what it was. Turns out it was an Aspire 5315, which comes with a 15 inch screen, 1.7 GHz Celeron processor, 1 GB of RAM, 80 GB hard drive, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive and Vista Home Basic. That model is not on Wal-Mart’s website, and I found no trace of it from any US reseller, unless you count all the people trying to turn a quick $100-200 profit on Craigslist. Comet has the UK version for £299.99, or about $625. It’s a pretty good deal at $350, given the decent size screen and 1 GB of RAM. $79 will upgrade it to Vista Home Premium and another $70 will get 2 GB of DDR2 RAM at Best Buy (Acer does the all-too-common scummy thing and sticks in two 512 MB SO-DIMMs, so upgrading from 1 to 2 GB means I’ll have two 512 MB sticks for the miscellaneous computer crap drawer).

I’ll channel Gearlog and post an Haiku review:

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The hard drive is small

And it’s not all that speedy

$350 makes it all good.

Seriously, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Acer loaded it with a bunch of Acer management “features” and enabled the Sidebar by default, but they didn’t load it with all the crapware you get on a Sony or Dell laptop. No free AOL trials, etc. Just a 90-day trial of Norton Internet Security, which I can’t stand. I’ll delete that and either use one of my OneCare licenses or install ZoneAlarm. It also didn’t come with any productivity software, not even Works. I have one more install remaining of MS Office Home & Student Edition, so that’s taken care of. If not, there’s always Open Office.

The Wi-Fi performance is a real bonus. I fired it up and had a pretty strong 11 Mbps signal from the Richmond Omni hotel, which is four blocks away. That let me configure a few things and download Firefox, Flash and iTunes.

The bottom line is simple. This is going to be a machine that runs Office and Firefox 99% of the time. For that, the specs appear to be adequate. I’ll upgrade the OS and the memory so I can run Aero and get some of the mobility features that come with Vista Home Premium, but even then, the total price will be under $500.

What’s on the menu next week, Wal-Mart?

Posted in Shopping, Technology | Tagged: , , | 17 Comments »