New Gear Heading My Way

Most IT guys, regardless of the field where they work, are somewhat geeky about gadgets, computers, and general technology. I am no different! Since I began my new Master’s program at UMUC, I have been turning the idea of purchasing a new laptop over and over in my head since my student loans were approved. Finally I made my decision.

I have an aging HP laptop that I purchased in 2008 when I started my M. Div and although it has served me well, it is starting to wear on me. The original build was designed to be Windows Vista and it is an HP Pavilion DV7 running a dual core Intel Centrino with 4GB or RAM and an nVidia GeForce dedicated video card. It works just fine on Windows Vista and I added an additional 2GB to bump it to 6GB of RAM. Once I loaded Windows 7 and updated the nVidia driver to give me the most bang for my buck. However, the dream machine became a nightmare at this point because not only did HP not provide updated features for Windows 7, there was an inherent flaw in the video card driver. If I was using the laptop on its docking station, the video drivers worked just fine but the instant I tried to use the computer off the dock, the screen would black out and then come back, reporting an error with the video card driver kernel and then it recovered from the error. However, I learned quickly that once I saw this event, I had anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes before my computer would completely lock up and require a reboot.

I called HP while on the road in Georgia to and tried to troubleshoot the issue. The technician finally told me that the laptop was designed to work with Vista only and since I was running Win7, HP wouldn’t offer any support. He had me roll back to the basic Windows Vista driver which was the ONLY thing that wouldn’t cause it to choke. That means that since I could never update the video card driver unless I was on a dock (why bother owning a laptop then?) and so my video games have all been using an old antiquated driver for these years. My Sims 3, WoW, and Bastion cannot look as awesome graphically as they are capable of because of the limitations with my hardware. This does not bode well for a man like me with geeky interests!

Last night I finally ordered my new laptop. I labored over the decision for weeks trying to decide how much I wanted to spend, how powerful of a computer I wanted to have, and what vendor to use. I considered the Dell XPS 1720 series but NewEgg has been sold out of them for a week now. I also considered the newest Asus G series laptop but for the cost of the computer and the capabilities, it wasn’t worth it to me. Finally I decided on an Alienware M17 series with an Intel i7 processor (2.o Ghz), 750GB HDD, and AMD Radeon HD video card. The only real downside was that I had not really had much luck with the quality of graphics on ATI/AMD Radeon video cards when they were installed in laptops so I was a little squeamish. However, a NewEgg reviewer posted some of their stats for performance on this machine and I saw what i needed to see. Evidently the Alienware hardware configuration works pretty well when it comes to pure power and graphics boost, the guy is getting over 65 fps on some of the hottest titles out now and his laptop isn’t even batting an eyelash. I purchased an extra 4GB stick or RAM to go with it so I will be running at 12GB when the laptop is fully configured.

I am only a part time gamer but I foresee that I will want to do much more gaming with a rig like this. My old laptop will be re-loaded with WinVista and the latest drivers so I can either use it as a backup for my main rig, or I am thinking of attaching it to my HDTV permanently and buying a new wireless keyboard and mouse so we can have a real media center device for the first time in many years. If we don’t do that, then I will set it up for my wife and then I can take her laptop that she is currently using (slightly older but still has HDMI out) and use it as the media PC. That way I can stream everything from Netflix without having to use the Wii and I can open up the various YouTube videos my daughter likes to dance to without having to struggle with the Wii Remote to type and the painfully slow Opera browser built into the Wii.