Finally Replaced My Dying Beast of A Laptop

It’s been a busy couple of days, filled with long talks with my wife about plans for the beginning of next month, when I’ll be moving to the Philippines, along with our cats.  It’s also been busy because I finally picked up a new laptop.

For those of you that have been keeping up with my blog for a while you’ll remember that about a year ago I started complaining about issues with my MacBook Pro.  I’d originally bought the thing in March of 2007.  I guess you could say it was a birthday present to myself, so I went all out and got the best specs and I wound up dropping about 3500 USD on it.  3 years on, I think it was a waste of money.

I first started noticing a problem with it about 5 months after I bought it, in August of 2007.  At the time I was still in the US military, on a deployment in Kuwait.  I was staying in a very quiet, nicely air conditioned barracks. It was an open bay barracks, meaning the whole thing was one big room, so noise was kept at a minimum out of respect for people who were working different shifts and may be asleep during the day.  I was able to hear a faint clicking noise coming from the left internal fan.  Being in Kuwait and locked down on an Army camp I had no way to do anything about it until I went on leave (vacation) in October.

As soon as I got to NYC I went to the 5th Avenue Apple store and dropped it off to be serviced.  Roughly 6 days later, I had to go up there and demand that it be returned because they’d kept it longer than they said they would and I had to leave to go back to Kuwait.  When the guy came back with it, he said that they’d found some dust inside the laptop, but there was nothing wrong with the fan.

The clicking noise continued and later research on the internet showed that it wasn’t an isolated problem.  Of course, by the time I got back from Kuwait, finished the mad rush of paperwork, picking up my car and household goods, and going through all the medical processing, my warranty was expired.  Not to mention that there was no Apple store around to take it to again anyway.

Additionally, during the last few months I was in Kuwait the DVD “Super” drive failed.  It no longer recognized discs and would make some ‘clack, clack’ noises and then spit the DVD (or CD) back out.  The only disc it seemed to accept properly was my Leopard installation disc.

A few months later, shortly after arriving in Singapore in February of 2008, the Express Card 34 slot broke.  I was trying to insert an eSATA adapter and instead of hearing the familiar sound of the card seating, I heard something snap and break and the adapter just sat there, loose in the socket.  The locking mechanism must have gotten stuck in the wrong position and been broken off when I inserted the card.

Thankfully, the thing held up well until May of last year.  The noise from the fan started to increase but that was all.

May was when it really started to go bad on me though.  The OS started to slow down considerably.  Fresh installs did nothing to help it.  Shortly after that the left fan finally gave out.  Whenever I started doing anything that would generate a high amount of heat, like using 3D programs or watching Flash videos, the left fan would spin up and make a sound like a lawn mower dying.

Since then I’ve been putting back money when I was able and I was finally able to afford and justify the purchase of a new laptop.

Given my past experience with my MacBook Pro, I decided to go with something far cheaper and hopefully far more reliable.  During that long ordeal with that beast of a machine I found out that Macs are plagued with hardware issues.  I guess I really should have coughed up the extra money for the Apple Care Extended Warranty, but I figured that having spent so much on a premium product it would be reliable.  That obviously wasn’t the case.

So, now I have a Lenovo Y450.  It’s got an HD screen, an nVidia GeForce 210M video card, a 2.13 ghz dual core processor, 2 GB of RAM and it even sounds good.  It has Dolby Home Theater software that’s supposed to make it kick ass.  It’s also running Windows 7, which is taking some getting used to.  I’ve primarily used OS X and Ubuntu for the last few years.  The whole thing has a nice, solid feel to it though and the only trouble I’m having so far is finding programs to replace the ones I’m accustomed to.  Oh, it came with freebies too: a shoulder bag and a wired mouse.  The mouse works well, even without a mouse pad, but I don’t know what I’m going to do with the bag.  It’s not a bright idea to walk around in Manila advertising that you’re carrying a laptop with you.

I also think that I’m done buying Apple products.  For a long while anyway.  I’ll use the iPods we have until they die and then maybe replace them.  There’s probably a cheaper alternative that’s just as nice and supports more formats.  I don’t think I’ll get another iPhone after this one either.  It’s nice and all, but I hardly use the majority of the apps on the thing, the camera is crap and it seems to stay behind in functionality compared to competitors.  That’s a story for another post though.

One last photo:

Dapper, The Great Investigator, examining the laptop box, perhaps to see if it’s suitable for use as a cat bed.

Switching to Ubuntu (9.10 Karmic Koala) Not As Hard As I Thought

ubutnu-logo.jpgMy wife had been having issues with her laptop for quite a while.  Well, that’s normal for Windows anyway, but her laptop was starting to slow down.  Normally I can do a few maintenance things to get it running at a relatively decent speed again but it was becoming less and less effective.  Not to mention it was getting old having to do it over and over.

I wasn’t really sure what to do about it until someone cool I know in Rome started talking about Ubuntu on Twitter.  She mentioned that it nearly doubled the speed of her laptop, even when switching over from XP.  That really got me thinking, because that was the main problem with my wife’s laptop, which was running Vista.

I still wasn’t too sure about the idea of installing a Linux based operating system though.  I mean, it was Linux.  That was supposed to be some wild, hard to use, super tech nerd operating system right?  How the hell could I get it running?  But then I realized that it couldn’t be that hard.  Not if so many people were using it.  Plus, the instructions on the website seemed pretty straightforward as well.  Best part of all?  You can do a test run before installing it.

So, I downloaded the disc image using BitTorrent, burned it, and then stuck it in the drive.  It’s called a Live CD/DVD and it lets you run the OS on your system without actually installing it, so you can get a feel for it before taking the plunge I suppose.  It ran surprisingly fast, considering it was running from a disc.  That made me a bit nostalgic.  Every time I would click on something, I would hear the disc spin up.  It reminded me of when I was a kid, playing games on a Commodore 64.  I don’t know why…  That was about 20 years ago.  Anyhow, I was impressed with how easy to navigate it seemed, and with how polished Ubuntu looked, even running from a Live CD.

So, we started the process of backing up all of her picture files and music and documents and whatever other clutter she had.  It was amazing how many files she found hiding in corners.  I stuck it all on an external USB drive.

The next day I did the actual installation.  It was fairly pain free.  After getting Ubuntu installed, the PC ran incredibly fast.  Everything was clean, easy to find, and very snappy!  The best part is that it feels so … utilitarian I suppose.  It doesn’t feel cluttered.  It was like crawling out of the wreckage of a downed airplane and finding yourself in a zen garden.

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The only hiccup to the whole switching over process for me was understanding repositories.  The easiest way to translate it into easy terms for people coming from Windows and OS X is this:  It’s a way to install program that let’s them get auto-updated along with system files.  They’re managed, (mostly) to some degree by the Ubuntu team so they’re pretty safe bets for installing without worrying about malware and the like.  You get to your repositories by clicking on System < Administration < Synaptic Package Manager.  This is where it’s sort of like Windows Update.  You click on ‘Reload’ to make sure you have the latest repositories.  Then you click on Mark All Upgrades.  Then you click Apply.  I suppose you don’t have to upgrade, but it’s probably best.  Anyhow, the ugly part of repositories is that it’s mostly a bunch of file names.  It’s hard to figure out what you’re looking for.  That’s where Google comes in.  Just Google the program you want along with the term repository and you can usually find out if it has one or not, and what it’s called.  Also, some third-party programs that aren’t in the repositories already can be added in, though you should only do that with companies you trust.  Basically, anything you need to do you can find help for with a quick Google search.  Since Ubuntu is open source, the community for it is huge and there are help articles and threads everywhere, including Ubuntu’s own help pages.

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Another thing that Ubuntu has going for it is that it’s like a blend of Windows and OS X for me.  It feels a lot like OS X but it seems to honor the keyboard shortcuts of Windows.

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Ubuntu really isn’t as steep a learning curve as I’d thought it would be.  It’s easy to figure out.  The OS is free, and all the software that you get for it is free too.  Well, there are free alternatives anyway.  I think I’ve seen a few paid programs while poking around, but there’s no need for them at all.

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I also realized that a lot of people like Ubuntu after installing it on my wife’s laptop.  Friends tell me they’d use Ubuntu exlusively if not for iPod/iPhone syncs requiring iTunes, which only runs on OS X and Windows.

Personally, I’m loving it, and I actually enjoy using it more than OS X.  I use my wife’s laptop when she’s not on it just because it’s more interesting!  The only thing I miss is Apple’s Mail.app.  There’s just no good replacement for it, though Ubuntu’s built in Evolution e-mail app comes close.

By the way, I’m using Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala, which is where these screenshots are all from.  It’s in it’s final beta stages now with the final release set for the 22nd, so I felt it was safe to just go for it.