Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

New laptop

I’m spending the weekend at my parents’ house in York and so my duties as the person who knows about computers come into play. This usually involves ensuring that all the software on my parents’ computers (a shared desktop and my dad’s laptop) are up-to-date, and fixing any problems that have arisen since my last visit.
This time, my dad has a new laptop.
I helped him buy it from Amazon. A Mac laptop was ruled out early on, since Apple don’t do an affordable MacBook with a reasonably large screen (this is something Microsoft touched on in a recent TV advertising campaign). He wanted something bigger than the 13″ screen that the MacBook comes without paying £1299 for the 15″ MacBook Pro, which would also have been overkill for what he needs it for.
So we were looking for something running Windows. I suggested waiting until Windows 7 had come out, so we did. I also suggested going for a computer with a 64-bit processor and the 64-bit edition of Windows 7. While it may result in some incompatibilities with very old software, I believe that we’re now at the tipping point where 32-bit computers and software will go out of fashion and only serve the low end of the market, with 64-bit machines taking over the mid-range. It also means that the computer would be upgradable beyond the 3 GB of RAM that it ships with.
Ultimately, he settled for a HP laptop from Amazon, costing £450. It has an AMD Turion II dual-core processor, 320 GB hard drive, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, DVD Rewriter drive and a few other bells and whistles like a remote control for Windows Media Centre, an HDMI port and an eSATA port which also doubles up as a fourth USB port. In terms of ‘crapware’ it wasn’t too badly inflicted – an AOL toolbar and 60-day trials of Norton and Office 2007 – all swiftly removed.
For the anti-virus I gave Microsoft Security Essentials a go, and it seems to work well as a simple, unobtrusive anti-virus program. It may not have the fancy features that Norton and McAfee offer, or even some of the features of the likes of AVG and Avast!, but it seems to do the basics very well, without monopolising a significant amount of computer resources.
Buying a computer with Windows 7 pre-installed ensured that we avoided most of the potential driver faults, though it still seemed remarkably stable (so far). The refinements over Windows Vista are subtle, but welcome, and it’s definitely a leap forward over Windows XP. Installing a printer connected to another machine running Windows XP was as painless as it is on a Mac – all you have to do is tell Windows you want to add a printer, say it’s on the network and it’ll present it to you in a few seconds – and then it’ll download and install the drivers for you automatically. That’s how easy it should be.
Speed-wise it’s very fast. Obviously it’s fresh out of the box so no doubt it’ll slow down over time, but installing software and indexing photos have all been very quick, even when running 32-bit programs. I’ve not noticed any incompatibilities when running 32-bit software on it either.
I have to say I’m quite impressed at how good the machine is, considering the price, and Windows 7 is living up to some of the more glowing reviews I’ve seen of it. Still…. I think my next computer will be a Mac. As much as I like this laptop and Windows 7, I’ll stick with Apple build quality and design, which is still ahead of HP and Microsoft in my view. Not by as much, but still ahead.

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