The Dell XPS 8300

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that my ancient Pentium 4 powered desktop died on Saturday. I had powered it off and unplugged from the socket while I was away in holiday. So it died a peaceful death in its sleep. Smile My it rest in peace forever more….


So I had to go off to Dell and spec a replacement PC.

I settled on an XPS 8300 with a nice new Intel i7-2600. Its the latest Sandy Bridge CPU, 4 cores clocked at 3.40Ghz.

Intel® Core™ i7-2600 Processor (3.40GHz, 8MB)

8192MB Dual Channel DDR3 1333MHz [2×4096] Memory

Video Card
Graphics : 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6670

Hard Drive
1.5TB (7,200rpm) Serial ATA Hard Drive

Microsoft Operating System
English Genuine Windows®7 Professional SP1 (64 BIT)

Sound Cards
Sound : Integrated 7.1 with THX® TruStudio


I’m quite looking forward to playing with this once it arrives. All that power…..

Once again I’ll be able to run Visual Studio on the desktop. As well as  Virtual PC and Virtualbox.

Not to mention the fact that Flight Simulator is going to rock on this machine Smile

Expect a review in about 2 weeks  Smile

Why I Just Bought A Dell (instead of an iPad)

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Even with all the iPad hysteria in yonder interwebs, there is one fact that differentiates the iPad from a true, bad-to-the-bone laptop: the need to sync.

This above all else cripples the iPad (at least when one considers it against the backdrop of the average laptop hardware spec). Think of it. How are you going to get all those wonderful iPhone apps you’ve bought over the past three years onto your brand spanking new iPad?? You need to sync it. How are you going to get your music, tv shows and movies on top your iPad? You need to sync it. In fact, how are you going to get some swanky software update that Apple will surely release on to your iPad without syncing it??

I have that problem with my iPhones at the moment. My iTunes library  that i sync the iPhones to got borked a few weeks back. Now I have to erase and re-sync BOTH iPhones with my partially rebuild library (its a bit of a hit or miss process). Until I do that, I can get stuff off the devices, but not sync stuff to them. Bit of a pain, no?? Its going to be even worse with the iPad if I’m ever in this sticky situation with it.

Secondly, the iPad runs iPhone OS3.2, the laptop runs Windows 7 Professional. Which gives me the great freedom of applications?? It depends. I have no qualms about the app store. Its the type of application that is allowed on the iPad/iPhone thats the problem. Apple clearly prohibits running Virtual machines, or any kind of Just In Time compiliation on the device in question. So how do I write code on the thing?? (writing code is useless if you can’t compile in real time and debug). A Jailbreak is out of the question , and even then, Visual Studio is certainly not coming to a jailbroken iPad near you.

Second, the hardware itself limits what kind of applications you can run. If Adobe produces a stripped down version of Photoshop (likely – they already have a Photoshop iPhone app), Lightroom (possible, it depends on if the SDK allows access to the SD and USB port adaptors) or Illustrator (after Apple demonstrated the drawing capabilities of the iPad, why not?), you can bet your bottom dollar that they are not going to be anywhere as full featured and powerful as their desktop (and laptop) counterparts. The hardware is Apple’s very own custom silicon. The A4 system-on-a-chip made by PA Semi for its parent company runs at 1Ghz. Not exactly world class performance. And until we have industry standard bench marks, nobody can say for sure. Nevertheless, this nice Dell system runs a Intel® Core™2 T6670(2.2GHz,800MHz,2MB). A nice speed improvement, if I do say so myself. The current consensus is that the iPad has about a 1Gb of RAM. Compared to the 4Gbs in the Dell build.

Now I do a lot of typing on my laptop – whether thats for code or for taking notes or the occasional blog post. So the Keyboard is must for me. The iPad keyboard dock is an ingenious design, and would look good on just about any desktop (not to mention those nice display tables at the Apple Store). It goes along way to answering those critics who, after three years of using their iPhone virtual keyboards, still like their tactile feedback (not to mention the much improved ergonomics of writing volumes on the keyboard dock rather than just on your lap – there must be some ergonomically minded lobby that would blame apple for all the RSI around, right?). What i can’t imagine is lugging the dock all the way to uni, setting it up and then putting this tiny little iPad on it and then taking notes for three hours (mind you, after actually trying this I may change my mind, but thats months away). Equally, I can’t imagine turning up to a busness meeting armed with the keyboard dock and iPad – i’d be the laughing stock of any (Dell-dominated) conference table.

In saying that the iPhone virtual keyboard has been very good to me. If one had to graph the spelling mistakes I (inadvertently) tweet, there is a continual improvement ( a reverse hockey stick graph if you will). So I’m certainly not against the virtual keyboard on the iPad. How it will actually work, however, is another question altogether. I’m typeing this on the last Dell laptop i bought, and the keys give me firm, reassuring feedback. Not to mention the almost soothing sound the keys make as I type, the sound of success (if I an’t typing, I aint working).

Then there is battery. Now, if Apple is to be believed, the iPad has 10 hours of battery life and a month of standby. No idea if that’s 10 ours of general use, of video playback, of web browsing or music playback etc. Going by the iPhone’s track record I’m not so sure I’m always going to get 10 hours out of the thing. However, the 10 hours still far outlives the seven i had for two years with the current laptop’s 9 cell li-ion battery. And the 2 hours I’ve lived with for the past for months. And the zero hours that I’ve had for a week and a half now.

Now lets think of the gravy.

One, the laptop has no app store. On the minus side, this means that I have to source the applications I wish to run myself.  I have replacements for all the iPads built in applications. This, ironically enough, includes iBooks. Its called Kindle for PC. From Amazon. (Amazon’s actions over the weekend is a subject for another post, but read this brilliant article by the author John Scalazi). I have the Full Creative suite 3 from Adobe. I have Microsoft’s Expression Studio 3. I have Visual studio 2008 and 2010. I have SQL Server 2008. I have Office 2008 (soon to be 2010). I have a virtual swiss knife of utilities near and dear to my heart for everything from screen capture to April fools jokes.

Two, webcam. This laptop build has an integrated webcam. And the iPad does not. And yes, I’ve heard of those rumors of the camera cavity in the iPad’s frame. And yes there is every possibility that el Steveo will pull a One More Thing on launch day and announce the addition of a camera. But here we deal with certainties and absolutes, not obscure fantasies and wet dreams of fanboys. So we assume that there is no camera on the iPad version 1. But, again assuming that the SDK allows the access, the appearance of the third party webcam is almost assured. But still, I have a integrated webcam here and now.

Third, 64 bit. This is a 64 bit processor with a 64 bit OS. Need I say more?

Forth, DVD drive. For those movies I’d like to watch without going though the palava of syncing them. The benefits of having the DVD drive handy are still very much apparent, even in this age of the cloud and the on demand nature of the downloading programs off the web (legitimately, of course). The iPad is complete dependant on the internet for its software, music, and there is iTunes syncing for anything else.

The one question mark here, which I will require an actual iPad to answer, is the screen. The Dell screen is anti glare, and promises to be a significant improvement on the screen on my current laptop. The iPad screen is IPS and supposedly has a great viewing angle. According to Steve Jobs, that is. No-one has had it in direct sunlight yet, so we’ve no idea how well it handles the glare. The winner in this category will undoubtedly be Amazons Kindle (that pesky Company again).

So with out further ado, here are the specs:

Vostro 1520 : Standard Base

4096MB 800 MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM (2x2GB)

Internal Keyboard – English (QWERTY)

Video Card
Integrated GMA X4500 HD Graphics

Hard Drive
320GB (7,200rpm) Serial ATA Hard Drive with Free Fall Sensor

Microsoft Operating System
English Genuine Windows® 7 Professional (64 BIT)

Optical Devices
8X DVD+/-RW Drive including software for WIN7

Wireless Networking
Dell Wireless 1397 Mini Card (802.11 b/g) European

Primary Battery
Primary 6-cell 56 WHr Lithium Ion battery

Intel® Core™2 T6670(2.2GHz,800MHz,2MB)

Integrated 1.3MP Camera

Colour Choice
Obsidian Black

15.4 inch WXGA+ CCFL Anti-Glare Display Anti-Glare

MacWorld Fallout

iPod Touch update downloaded and installed. Add-on purchased.

I’ve only had a cursory look at the features. And boy do they rock. I was going to say that I really needed a Notes app and his Steveness has gone ahead and stole my thunder. Not that I’m complaining 🙂 .

The Add-on was cheap when I think of the iPod classic owners that I know – they are going to really  be envious.

I’m currently looking at my new Dell Inspiron and wondering who I might sell to get an Air (yes, who).

While I think that one over here’s a Youtube clip making fun of the OTHER software company in action:

Windows Vista- Day 4 On the Alien Planet

I have to say, now that most things are working, my opinion of Vista has improved loads.

Its the little details that I appreciate now. How taskbar items light up when you hover over them, for example

Windows Live installed perfectly on its fifth try, so I’m using Writer to type this.

Norton LiveUpdate works like a charm.

Windows update works well. I like the fact that Update is integrated within Vista instead of having a website to get all the optional stuff from.

My Gmail Notifier works like a charm.

The Windows Home Server Console does not work ( can’t log me in).

The SageTv Client works fine as well.

The Console itself installed fine ( I installed it before installing anything else, including updates), but can’t open my shares. Backup, strangely, works fine.

And accessing my shares is a pain. I have to use the IP address instead of the Computer Name. Which means I have to change the IP address on my media library every time it changes. At least till I get the DHCP Add-In working again( last time I tried, my PC’s refused to connect to the Internet).

So. how did I get this far after my frustrating first 2 days with Vista?

I tried everything to get the laptop networking working again. Scott Hanselman had a post a few week back entitled: The Nuclear Option: Resetting The Crap Out Of Your Network Adapters in Vista

This is for when “Diagnose and Repair” isn’t cutting it. Thanks to JohnP for his help.

  • Go to the Start Menu, type cmd and right click, and select “Run As Administrator”
  • Type the following commands, each followed by pressing enter.
    • ipconfig /flushdns
    • nbtstat -R
    • nbtstat -RR
    • netsh int reset all
    • netsh int ip reset
    • netsh winsock reset

Now, reboot and pray. Possibly not in that order.

I tried this in vain, twice. Clearly something was wrong since none of the above list of applications were able to access the Internet or local network.

So I went one better: I re-installed Vista from scratch. Now granted, it might seem like overkill to sort out a few networking issues, but those very networking issues prevented me from using my laptop to its full potential. This is because the use the network is such that we might as well not have the computer/network-enabled-device if we can’t use the network to its full.

The install was surprisingly quick and easy. And everything ran like a swizz car from there.

The one thing to note is that my Console and Shares( via the WHS Connector)  were working fine before any updates were installed. In other words, I could type in \\SERVER and my shares would come up. Currently I have to type in the IP address. So I’m pretty sure that an update is the culprit. though I have neither the time nor the patience to rollback each one to find out which it is.

All that aside, the Dell Inspiron 6400 is a very nice machine. It keeps up with everything quite well. And it has up to 7 hours of battery time ( if you select the power saver plan). It has media keys  on the edge that left you control Windows Media Player from  the keyboard, which is nifty. The really good thing is that its not ablaze with advertising stickers like some laptops I’ve seen lately.

In the final analysis, I’m really starting to like Vista after spending several hours with it reading 1000+ RSS items this afternoon(Google Reader subscribers will know what I mean).

So its back to writing software and salvaging erratic ship dates.

Dell Laptop

Here’s what I got:

Inspiron 6400 Intel® Pentium® Dual-Core T2080 Processor (1.73GHz,533MHz,1MB L2 cache)

Wide Sreen 15.4″ WXGA (1280×800) TFT Display

Memory Dual-Channel 1024MB (2×512) 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM

Hard Drive 120GB Serial ATA (5400 RPM)

Fixed Internal 8X DVD+/-RW Drive including software, for Vista only

Battery Primary 9 cell 85W/HR LI-ION

Integrated Intel Media Accelerator 950

Dell Wireless 1390 802.11b/g 54Mbps Mini-PCI Wireless Card, for Dual Core Processors

English – Vista Business

English Microsoft Works 8.0 (Word Processor, Database) with Recovery CD

Not entirely sure about the memory. Last time I played with Vista it took 800Mb sitting idle – no programs running.  But hey, operating an a shoestring budget is never pretty. And I can always use Ready Boost if I need to.

Performance isn’t really an issue. I’ve got all the power I need.

And why on earth do OEM’s insist on putting Works on every damned machine they build. I’ve got  Works installed on the Compaq I got 2 years ago and have never ONCE used it.

And I figured that I might as well get Vista since the service Pack is out soon. And I never really got playing around with the beta beyond admiring the eyecandy.

Delivery date says on or before the 26th. We’ll see.

Choosing a Laptop

Its back to university in a few weeks and I’m needing a new laptop. Currently I have my eye on a Dell Inspiron 6400:

Processor: Intel® Centrino® Mobile Technology: up to Intel® CoreTM 2 Duo Processor T7400 (2.16 GHz, 4 MB L2 cache, 667 MHz FSB & Intel®  Pro/Wireless 3945 (802.11a/b/g) network connection

Operating System:

Genuine Windows Vista®  Ultimate

Genuine Windows Vista®  Business

Genuine Windows Vista®  Home Premium

Genuine Windows Vista®  Home Basic

Chipset: Intel® 945GM chipset (with Intel®  GMA 950TM  integrated graphics)

Display: Choice of 15.4-inch Wide screen displays in WXGA resolution, WXGA TrueLifeTM resolution

Video Graphics: Intel®  Graphics Media Accelerator 950TM  integrated graphics with up to 224MB shared system memory

Wireless Connectivity Solutions: Integrated Dual-Band (802.11 a/b) antenna. Integrated DellTM  Wireless 1390 (802.11b/g) or Intel®  Pro/Wireless 3945 (802.11a/b/g) network connections. The Dell Wireless 350TM  integrated Bluetooth 2.0 wireless solution is available as optional upgrade at time of purchase only

Battery Life: Be productive for up to 5 hours without re-charging your batteries

Design: Artic Silver and Alpine White design incorporating a 5-1 card reader and front-access multimedia buttons

Memory: Up to 2GB of 533 DDR 2 SDRAM provides for excellent overall system performance

Optical drives: Your choice of CD-RW/DVD Combo drive or 8x DVD+/-RW 2(supports double layer technology)

Software: Microsoft®  WorksTM  including Works word processor, spreadsheet, database, calendar and My Projects organiser

Weight: Starting from 2.8 kg (6.18 lbs) with CD-RW/DVD Combo drive and 6-Cell Battery and integrated graphics

QuickSnap Colour Display (LCD) Back: Choose from four different stylish colours to personalise your notebook

Express card slot: Please note that this system has a ExpressCard slot and support the ExpressCard format only. This system does not have a PCMCIA card slot.

The only thing they forgot is the battery time. Since I’ll be using this to take notes, among other things, battery time is very important.

Any other suggestions?

WHS Update: Dell Customer Service

Well, yesterday I ordered  1Gb in new memory for my Windows Home Server from Dell. I intend to install a Tv Card and SageTv and get more bang for my buck out of said server, thus the new memory.

Since I was lazy, I originally got a Dell PowerEdge SC440 for Whs to run on.

However, the memory I ordered yesterday was/is incompatible with the SC440 (this being despite the fact that I went to Memory Upgrades for the SC440 on Dell’s Website). So Dell Helpfully called to inform me of the fact.

Within minutes, the old order was canceled and the new order submitted and the earth once again revolved on its axis. Easy as pie.

Well, not quite. The new memory is not quite twice the original amount I paid- once again blowing the budget out of the water.

Nevertheless – congratulations to Dell.

So I’ll need to wait slightly longer than anticipated for the TV card.

I’ve not decided between:

Hauppauge WinTV-NOVA-T 500 – Dual Digital Freeview TV tuner


Hauppauge WinTV HVR4000 – True HD TV tuner – Quad mode (Analogue, Digital, Satellite both DVB-S and HD DVB-S2)

(For those outwith the British Isles, Freeview is our version of free-to-air digital TV)

In typical fashion, the first is half the price of the second.

Not exactly Media Centre Edition, but the whole idea here is to the extend functionality of the Server – which spends most of its day idiling (truth be told, its only really busy between noon and 3pm when it backs the pcs up and SyncToy moves files to to the server). Though, Ill have to fiddle around with the backup times once the Sage is Installed.

And second, the Current PVR is hopelessly deluged with recordings that are usually watched weeks later (its only got 100GB of space).

And third, finally, I’d rather keep the recordings for than delete the everytime the space runs out.

I’ll keep you posted.

And kudos to Dell, again. for their customer service (and I don’t really mind the extra costs as a result 🙂 )