ALIENWARE 15 R3 — THE GOOD AND THE HUH?

I always have very mixed feelings when I realize I’m going to have to buy a new primary computer. I love technology and I love computers. I love gadgets and widgets and cameras and lenses and software. From the first day I put my fingers on a computer keyboard, I knew I’d found my place in the new order. Computers felt like “home” from the first day.

New computer

However, getting a new primary computer that will be your everything computer is a big deal.

I’m not talking about a tablet. Or a Kindle. Or an old computer you want to keep because it contains software you can’t buy anymore and which you like better than “new improved” versions.

No, in this case, I’m talking about the one item of equipment that you use all the time for years on end. It’s the constant use computer. The machine on which you blog. Take care of your daily business. Banking, shopping, email, photography. It’s where you process pictures. Where you have software and filters. It’s where you write. Design books. It is important.

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Getting a new computer up to speed, configured the way you want it has always been a process that takes anywhere from a few hours to several months of tweaking. In this case, it also involved getting used to a new operating system — Windows 10 Pro up from Windows 7 Pro.

PERFECTLY FROM THE DAY I TOOK IT OUT OF THE BOX

This computer worked absolutely perfectly from the day I got it. There was no start-up time, except the time it took me to figure out where the new stuff was on this computer that was somewhere else on my earlier computers. If I didn’t feel I need to know what’s going on inside, I need not have bothered to find out anything. I’m still finding out things, though more now than before since that BIOS download the other day, but that’s a different issue.

THINGS THEY COULD DO BETTER — AND PROBABLY WILL

The C-port “Thunderbolt” replacements for the USB drives are not very sturdy. They work, but they are fragile. I’m sure they will be improved with time, but as of today’s writing, they should have included more USB ports. I have added hubs, but the lack of a CD drive for a camera card is a real pain in my butt. They should put it back.

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It won’t help me much. However, for future computers … put the CD drive back. Add at least two or three more USB ports. There are a lot of items that only work properly in a USB port. Eventually, maybe everything will love these new ports, but they don’t love them today. My external hard drives and my DVD/CD drive won’t work in the C port … and of course, I also need something for the CD flash card too. In theory, you can use a hub, then put stuff them through the C port, but that’s really stupid. Too many hubs, too much stuff. I’m sure I am not the only one complaining about this.

A FEW QUESTIONS ANSWERED BEFORE YOU ASK THEM

Why did I stay with Windows rather than getting a Mac? Because I actually prefer Windows. It’s a structured, work-oriented system. Its design and the way I think work well together. I have owned Macs and used them, but in the end, I’m much more comfortable on Windows. I’m task oriented. The Mac with its “do your own thing” unstructured style doesn’t mesh well with my style. Of course, there’s also the software I own that runs on Windows, but won’t run on a Mac.

I am not a hardware kind of gal. You won’t find me rewiring anything or prying open the case to get at the innards. Software? No problem.

Hardware? Call the guy with the toolkit. The second-hand market it good for people who aren’t afraid of getting down and dirty with the guts of the hardware, but I’m not one of them … so new was the way to go for me. Windows PC. High end. New.

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My previous Alienware laptop was very satisfactory, but technology has been whipping along at light speed for the past few years. The computer was more than two operating systems behind. I was not interested in overlaying a new operating system on the old one. I tried that and failed. Badly. It was also getting difficult to run new software on the older system. It ran, but not run well. Frustrating and annoying, but the development world is not interested in my opinion.

OTHER QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Why Windows 10 Pro you ask? Over the decades, I’ve found the “professional” versions of Microsoft operating systems are more stable and much less buggy than the “home” version of the same OS.

Every version of Windows has essentially the same stuff in it, but the menus change. The most alarming difference for more was the complete removal of the “Restore” and “system configuration” menus which has been part of Windows since the beginning. The pieces are now parceled out to other menus (Systems and Task Manager).

HOW DOES IT DO?

It boots up in fewer than 10 seconds. I don’t know how many different windows I could open, but whatever it is, I haven’t found it yet.

THE GOOD AND THE WHAT-THE-HELL?

I would have gone all the way and said this is the best computer I’ve ever had. Basically, it still is, but that download the other day from Microsoft was evil. I’m still recovering from it. To be fair, things seem to be working more or less normally — again.

It’s a great computer.

The problem is, you never know what kind of rat poison you’re going to get in downloads from home base. Apple has done it, Windows has done it more. They really need to step back and ponder users and what we need.


THE PARTS AND PIECES:

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  • 16GB DDR4 at 2133MHz (2x8GB)
  • English Backlit Keyboard, powered by AlienFX
  • NVIDIA(R) GeForce(R) GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5
  • N1435 & N1535 Wireless Driver
  • 256GB PCIe SSD (Boot) + 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s (Storage)
  • Windows 10 Pro (64bit) English
  • Killer 1435 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1
  • Intel(R)Core(TM) i5-6300HQ (Quad-Core, 6MB Cache, up to 3.2GHz w/Turbo Boost, Base frequency 2.3GHz)
  • 15.6 inch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS Anti-Glare 300-nits Display
  • Lithium Ion (68 Wh) Battery

IF YOU DO A LOT OF STUFF ON THE COMPUTER, A GOOD ONE IS WORTH THE MONEY

The computer I had before this one is now Garry’s computer. Aside from not handling newer applications well, it’s a fine computer and will last a very long time, especially with Garry using it. Even if it needs a hard drive or something else, it’s more than worth repairing. You can’t say that about a lot of the cheap, cheesy computers.

They are cheap, but they aren’t good. And they won’t stand up to repair.

ONE THING, ANOTHER THING, AND THEN … ONE MORE THING

Garry’s computer went down, but that was okay because he could use my other computer. The Kindle went down, but that turned out okay because Audible fixed it and then Amazon fixed it more. But when my computer went down this afternoon, that was NOT okay. Not even a little bit okay.

First, there was a download. Turned out to be a BIOS download, but they didn’t mention this little detail to me and in any case, it didn’t matter because it blew out all my recovery backups. I have my photographs on hard drives, but the rest of my world is online.

It blew out Photoshop — the one from 2008 which had been running fine, thank you.

computer gargoyle

It also blew out my sound, but after a bit of jiggling, I got that back. It blew out both of my C-port adaptors. They were cheap and I can cope with stuff that cost me ten bucks. Brand new. But when she told me the jpgs weren’t working and I had to call the company that owns my cameras, I got a little crazy. I was trying really, really hard to be normal, you know? I was trying to not breathe hard, not scream in panic or anything. I was doing okay, but that was it for me.

I said “It’s a FREAKING JPEG. It’s not a fancy schmantzy super special thing that comes with my fancy camera. It’s a JPEG. A lousy little JPEG.”

We eventually worked our way around to the point where she admitted there had been a lot of calls today, all pretty much like mine with people screaming “WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY COMPUTER?”

So — everything is working. Except I don’t have software. For pictures. I do, however, have Photoshop on Garry’s computer and the guy from the computer shop is fixing HIS computer. To be fair, Alien is pretty sure they can get me a version of Photoshop, too. It’ll just take a couple of days.

I’m just saying … it was one thing. Then, there was another thing. THEN, there was THIS thing. I’m totally freaking nuts. Except the computer is working … minus the lack of software. Maybe we’ll get that fixed too. Oy.

EXPECTATION? WHY GARRY NEEDS A NEW COMPUTER AND WHY GMAIL HAS NO TRASH

EXPECTATION? BAH. HUMBUG!


We were supposed to be somewhere else. We should be there. We should not be here. But we are here and I am not happy about it. Of course, there is another computer — my computer. It has a ton of expensive software on it Garry will never use, but I will use.

Garry’s version of Chrome has no TRASH folder. None. Not. Any. Trash folder. I went looking for it. Because doesn’t everything have a trash folder? I mean, seriously, doesn’t everything come with trash?

You don’t want it? In it goes to the trash. But his doesn’t have one and nothing I did would help. Nothing. At. All.

This is merely to make the middle of this pretty.

My family is snarling at each other.

Expectation? We were supposed to be away. Far away. Having fun. Instead, we are here, trying to figure out why Garry’s Gmail account has no trash. And why his computer up and died for no reason.

I’m trying to feel good about this but I am not succeeding. Bah. Humbug. HUMBUG.

I’m sure I’ll be in a better mental space tomorrow but as for today? Humbug, I cry. Double that. Double humbug.

COMPUTERS, SOFTWARE, GUNS, AND US: NOT A RANT, JUST A RAMBLE

Yesterday, I tried to download a book from my Audible.com library and got a message telling me I didn’t have adequate permission.

I’ve been an Audible member since 2002 and I’m pretty sure I have more than adequate permissions. I tried what I thought I knew, then gave up and called Audible. Which is not as horrific as, for example, having to call Dell. I think I’d rather have a root canal than have to deal with Dell service people. The folks at Audible are nice. Helpful. Mostly knowledgeable. Pleasant and patient. Which is good because when my computer is playing up, I transform into a very cranky old person. I depend on my computer. I expect it to just do its job, without complaint. Without hesitation and without any special massaging. I don’t burn incense to it as I used to with some of my more persnickety machines through the years.

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We went through every menu and fixed permissions. Edited the registry. Nope, permission still denied. Which was when I realized that the application denying permission was actually Chrome, not Windows or my operating system. Good news? I wouldn’t need to call Dell. Bad news? What are the odds of actually getting a person to talk to at Google?

But my new friend at Audible had a secret weapon. He gave me the tech support direct line for Google! How cool is that? I was dubious, but I finally womaned up and called them.

Two dogs and a computer

Two dogs and a computer

They answered. It was human, not a robot. We got it fixed. Something had corrupted between when I signed off last night — well after midnight — and when I arose in the late hours of the day and signed on. This confirms my belief that our dogs secretly have opposable thumbs. They do stuff on the computers while we sleep. How else can a perfectly good browser go bad while nothing is happening? It’s got to be the dogs. J’accuse!


One of the many conversations Garry and I had yesterday had to do with weapons and shooting people to protect ourselves or others. He said he might not be able to kill anyone unless they threatened me. Then, all bets were off. I said I was afraid, unfamiliar as I am with guns except for the 22 mm target rifle I used to slay paper plates almost 50 years ago. On vacation in Maine. Even then, I didn’t load the rifle or clean it. Someone just handed it to me, loaded and cocked, said “Hold it this way” and I shot the crap out of that paper plate. It never stood a chance against my wrath.

That same long ago day in Maine, as my friends and I were passing the rifle around, shooting those paper plates (which we had tacked to an understanding pine tree) … a pheasant wandered by, and decided to hang around awhile. He wasn’t impressed with our fire power. He just stood there, in front of the tree, looking at us.

pheasant

An argument broke out. Who would shoot the pheasant? What if we shot him, but he didn’t die? Who was going to shoot him again? Who would pull out the feathers and what else did you need to do to make that pheasant into a meal? Eventually, we just shooed him away. Mighty hunters we were not.

Given that little piece of history, I have no reason to believe in my ability to kill anything. For any reason. If I started to think, by the time my brain registered the need for haste, I’d be dead. Unless that other part of me kicked in, that “emergency response unit” that seems to pop up only on an “as needed” basis. At which point all my thought processes stop and I just do whatever I need to do to survive. That could happen, right? But I wouldn’t count on it.

Garry has at least had the benefit of having gone through basic training in the Marine Corps. Once, a long time ago, he could take his weapon apart and put it back together with his eyes closed. Not that we have such a weapon, but at least he has — somewhere in memory — a fundamental familiarity with a weapon.

Lucky that we’ve never been tested, eh?

VALUE VERSUS PRICE

I am still computer shopping. Online. Been doing it for weeks. Maybe months. Online is the only way these days, now that real computer stores have disappeared.

But that’s okay. I like comparing stuff online. I can see the prices and features, try out all the different configurations. Read user reviews which range wildly from “this computer is a total piece of garbage” to “this is the best computer ever made anywhere” —  and they are reviewing the same computer. In the end, you have to take all the reviews with more than a few grains of salt. “Garbage” and “great” are relative to the expectations of the reviewer.

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There are people who will decide a computer is worthless because they don’t like the keyboard layout and others who will think it’s great despite having had to do substantial reconfiguration and upgrades on it.

I just want it to work well, all the time, and not give me any back talk. Also, I understand that the specifications are not the whole story. They ought to be, but there’s more to a great computer than its components.

WHAT I NEED

A big, fast hard drive. Preferably two of them: a solid state drive (SSD) for booting plus a big ass 7200 RPM mechanical drive for storage. The drive on this machine is getting full. I never thought it could happen, but photographs take up a lot of space. Even with backups and off-loading some stuff to external drives, 120,000 photographs takes up a lot of space.  And there will always be more.

MEMORY 

I have 12 gigabytes in this computer. I want 16 in a new one. I want at least 4GB of dedicated Video RAM (VRAM) in my next computer. I’ve got 2 in this model, but more is better. “Shared graphics” when you use Photoshop and filters results in Blue Screens of Death, locked up systems, and sudden, unplanned system reboots.

side view alienware closeup computer

Then there’s the size problem. All of this would be easy (and a lot cheaper) if I wanted a desktop. You get a lot more for your money when you buy a desktop rather than a laptop. But I don’t want to go back to being alone in my office all day because that’s where my desk is. I also know, because Tom told me, that I could get a desktop and use it as my server. Then, I could use a laptop — any laptop — as a work station.

I’m not hardware savvy enough to do the setup. I know people who can … but they don’t live nearby. I need something which will work out of the box.

LAPTOP – SMALL AND LIGHT

The lighter, the better. I’m not getting any younger. I can’t go “tablet” because I can’t edit pictures on a tablet. Tablets don’t have SD card slots or sufficient graphic support to run the software I use. Besides: I’m a mouse and keyboard kind of gal. The whole finger-poking thing doesn’t do it for me. I have tablets and a phone, so I do understand how they work. For me, typing on a virtual keyboard is torture. Even playing a simple game on a tablet is painful.

The smaller and lighter machines do not have all the features I want, so it won’t be an ultra-light laptop. Compromise will be required.

my office and desktop computer

Next, there’s monitor quality and size. Most manufacturers are offering super high-definition monitors today. I run this computer at 1920 X 1080. It can run at a higher resolution and I tried it, but it made everything is so tiny, I couldn’t see it. You could give me the highest resolution monitor in the world, but my eyes are not going to be any better than they are now. This is as resolved as I can actually use.

The things I want, make it difficult to avoid getting the other stuff I don’t want. Or need.

It’s won’t be a Mac, either. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, there is no known way to transfer formatted text from PC to Mac without losing the formatting. You can convert all your documents into PDFs, but I don’t want to do that.

I’m a writer. My work is not optional.

NUMBERS. GIVE ME NUMBERS.

So finally, back to “value.” Money. Cost. Price.

I want a super high-end laptop — at about half what it actually costs. I can get what I want for the bargain price of around $1500 on sale. That would be a top quality machine from a dependable company with a solid reputation and a service department in North America. When all is said and done, I want this computer with more memory, bigger graphics card, and a faster hard drive.

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I don’t have $1500. I could finance it, but they make you pay the money back. If they would give me the money, I could work with that.

So, my solution is — I’m not getting a new computer. Not until I have no choice. What I can afford does not offer me the value I need. If I can’t afford what I need, there’s no point in getting anything.

Value versus cost.

Maybe prices will drop or I’ll win the lottery. Of course, I’d first have to buy a ticket.

VALUE | THE DAILY POST

A CONNECTED LIFE

A CONNECTED LIFE

These days, connections mean so many things. Our friends and followers on line. Our friends in the “real world.” The plugs and wires that run from our appliances, widgets, gadgets, and other devices to a power source.

It’s cable, satellite, FIOS, WiFi, and 3G.

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Electricity is the bottom line for most technology. But there’s more. The roads and bridges that allow us to drive from here to there. The pipes which bring water from the well to the house. The slot on the computer into which I can plug a memory card, turning digital data into an editable image.

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All these connections are part of the intricate web of our connections. We need all of them to be part of this techno-connected society. The more technology we use, the more dependent we are on our connections.

We take them for granted and barely notice them when they are working.

One day, there comes a storm. It knocks out the electricity. Nothing works. No connections. The well pump stops and there’s no water. The clocks don’t tell time. The background hum of our stuff disappears.

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No beeps, whirs, or clicks. If an outage lasts longer than batteries, there will be nothing. Those of you who depend entirely on “the cloud,” aka “other people’s servers” for music, movies, books … you have nothing even with battery power. Because without electricity, there’s no Internet, no cloud. No iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix.

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The silence and darkness are frightening.

Connectivity is life support. We have forgotten — in many cases, never knew — how to live without it.

ONE SIZE NEVER FITS ALL

Just when I think this subject has been dealt with, finished, over and done … it pops back up again. For reasons that remain a bit murky to me, a few large software and other organizations still believe the tablets and mobile phones are going to replace computers. Laptops and desktops … gone. Everything now gets done on tiny little thingamabobs.

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NOT!

About four years ago, tablets were the thing. Articles everywhere explained why tablets — and other small devices — would replace computers. The laptop and desktop are dead! The techno-pundits agreed: no one would need a computer because everything would be done on a small, portable device.

The short-sightedness of that statement still echoes in the air. Of course it didn’t happen. Sure, everyone bought a tablet. Or two or more. But no one threw out their computer, either. Turns out that each device has a purpose and an appropriate use. It isn’t and never will be “either-or.”

Venu 8 size compared to phone

I don’t have anything against portable devices. I have a smart phone. Sometimes, I even use it. I have a couple of tablets and have had as many as four, including an iPad. I didn’t like the iPad (gasp!) and gave it to my granddaughter who had a valid need for it in school. The others, I passed on to people who didn’t already have a tablet or three. The price of tablets has dropped so much — frequently offered free when you buy a cell phone or laptop — it’s getting hard to give them away.

I have a terrific gaming 14-inch laptop on which I’m working right now. I also have a desktop with a big HD monitor. I rarely use the desktop, but I keep it because you never know. Garry has one too. Ditto.

The big desktop monitor is a touch screen. It used to go nuts if a fly or a mosquito walked across it. I eventually gave up and turned the touch functionality off. It was a viciously difficult angle at which to use ones fingers, especially if you have a semblance of fingernails. It killed my wrists and shoulders.

WHAT ARE TOUCHSCREENS GOOD FOR?

Not much, actually. The little ones are good for checking email and making brief responses … and sending texts. Taking a quick glance at a website. Reading a book. Looking at (but not editing) pictures. Listening to music.

SO WHAT’S MISSING?

The ability to create anything or do any actual work. Too small for a spreadsheet. Without a keyboard, no writer would try to do anything longer than a paragraph or a quick typo fix.

And then there’s the inaccuracy. You cannot edit a photograph — or anything really using a touchscreen.

my office and desktop computer

YOU CAN’T DO “BIG” USING “TINY”

Those who extol mini devices as a total computer solution have never designed a book, made a movie, edited a photograph, used Photoshop (or any Adobe product), converted a book to a PDF or edited a manuscript. I know this because it’s impossible. All other problems aside, little devices are too small.

This is not my opinion. It’s fact. Mac, PC, Android, Linux — size matters. You can argue this until you’re blue in the face. It won’t change anything. Oh, and some of us really can’t read tiny type. Like more than half the population, for example. Far-sighted people and anyone over 40. Just saying.

VIRTUAL KEYBOARDS ARE FOR VIRTUAL TYPISTS

I read an article that explained how you can type just fine on a virtual keyboard. No, you can’t.

tablets kindle iPad

IT’S A BIG WORLD

I like choice. I like having different devices for specific tasks. You can’t replace everything with one thing  and there’s no reason you should.

Diversity makes life interesting. We don’t have to go to the same church, read the same books, believe the same stuff … or use the same computer

One size never fits all.