November 6th, 2005

New Toys

Here's some of the new toys I've got over the last month.

My old GSM cell phone would hold a charge just a bit longer than a day, even after I replaced the battery. I went out and got a Nokia 6021 as a replacement. Basically I was looking for the cheapest one with bluetooth and gprs. It also comes with a color screen and some games and about a billion different cheesy ring tones. The one neat thing it came with is a Lunar Calendar converter application so you can find out when Lunar New Year is, and find out your Lunar Birthday and all that fun stuff. That might only come on phones in Chinese speaking areas though. It does not come with a camera. I really don't care that I can't take fuzzy poorly lit pictures with my phone. They also gave me a free Nokia HDW-3 bluetooth headset to go with it. The phone only came with a Chinese manual, but in the back they have a note about getting an English manual. I faxed in my request and got it a couple of days later. Nice.

16X DVD+R media is starting to become plentiful and reasonably priced here, and Dual Layer blanks are also coming down in price, though not enough to use it for everything. So I went out and picked up a BenQ DW1640 burner. Current burners pretty much all support 16X writing on DVD+R and DVD-R media, so the current feature to look for is 8X Dual Layer capability. The newest drives will support that, the older ones top out at 4X. Most DL media is still 2.4X speed though 4X and 6X is available if you look for it, but looking for 8X DL capability will future-proof your drive. It's unlikely they'll be able to push specs higher than that, so that'll probably last you until BluRay or HD-DVD take root. Anyways, it's been working out quite well and even 16X burns are scanning with low error rates. I tried a DL burn which turned out pretty mediocre quality, but from what I read the Ritek-made 2.4X DL media is not all that great. I'll be trying some better quality media when I can find some at a reasonable price.

The big new toy though is a replacement for my 4+ year old laptop. My old laptop was finally breaking down and mysteriously throttling back to about 1/5 of regular speed. Since it is only 1ghz processor to begin with, 1/5 of that is pretty painful with modern applications. I had wanted to get something with SXGA+ resolution or better to at least match the old one, but I just couldn't find the right set of features. The closest was the Acer Ferrari 4005WXMi, but I ultimately decided that the 15.4" WSXGA+ made the laptop just a bit bigger than I wanted. I finally decided to scale back and settle for WXGA resolution (1280x768 or 1280x800).

This made my choices much easier and much cheaper, and I finally landed on the Acer Aspire 5004WLMi. It comes with 2.0ghz Pentium M, ATI X700 64mb PCI-Express video, 14.1" 1280x800 LCD, 512mb DDR2-533, 8X DVDRW drive with 2.4X DL, 3xUSB2, Firewire, 5-in-1 memory card reader, gigabit ethernet, wifi b/g, bluetooth, modem, 80mb disk (only 4200rpm though), and XP Home. I bumped up the memory to 1gb (it can go to 2gb), which came to a grand total of about US$1300. That's about half what I paid for my previous laptop, and this one is way better in everything but screen resolution.

One of the big reasons I went with Acer is because they are a local company. I wanted better warranty service than the hassles I had with my previous Dell. The three big local brands are ASUS, Acer, and BenQ. The ASUS laptops I looked at weren't all that impressive, and their touchpads seem to be a bit twitchy. Acer is one I'd already been looking at because of the Ferrari laptop I decided to pass over, but all of their computers seemed fairly decent. I've had some good experience with BenQ stuff, but their laptops seemed to all be solidly mainstream in features, with few models with the more advanced features I wanted, and not in the right combination. So in the end I went with Acer, though downgraded to a slightly lesser laptop than I'd originally looked at. Acer also gives their laptops a 2 year local warranty instead of 1 year with some other brands. The first year of warranty is international, so I can get it serviced anywhere for the first year.

I've only had it for a few days, but I'm pretty pleased with it. The lower resolution has ended up being not as bad as I had expected, with perhaps the extra width making up for it. I've had a chance to try out Acer's service already and been fairly impressed. No, not because it was broken! The laptop came with Chinese XP Home installed and only Chinese recovery CDs. I dropped their customer support email asking if I could switch to English CDs and they said no problem. I just needed to go to a local service center and exchange the CDs. The closest service center is near the computer shopping district in Taipei, so it was easy to find. The first time I went in on Friday, I only had to wait a couple of minutes. It turns out that after much searching, they didn't have the English recovery CDs for my model, but they said they'd have it in a few days and they'd call me. Only about an hour after I got home they called back and said they had a set ready. It was already late so I waited until Saturday to go back. That time there was a 5 person wait, but I only had been sitting a few minutes before someone recognized me from the day before and brought out the CDs for me. I'd actually already reinstalled the system with XP Pro so that I can install the multi-lingual extensions and get real file security as well as the other Pro features, but if I ever want to sell the system or something, it's nice to have the original config to fall back to.

I haven't used the bluetooth, memory card, modem, or dvd burner features, but I've used pretty much used everything else and it's all been quite nice. The battery is rated at 3 hours, but with some tweaking I was able to get a power management profile that was still quite usable but allowed 4 hours of battery life. That's quite a change from my previous laptop which would charitably get a bit more than 90 minutes on a new battery. I need to get GPRS service activated on my cell phone so I can use it remotely, but I've already used it on the free wifi at Burger King. It's really nice having the wifi built in with real antennas in the lid rather than a pcmcia card with the dinky antenna sticking out. Getting a good signal is much more reliable.

This model is only currently available in Asia and Europe, unfortunately for most of you.

Fun, fun new toys.

(This post really freaks out the LJ spell check.)