Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Macbook replacement is here.

In the end I bought a mid-level Dell XPS15 with the 3200:1800 screen option, i7 processor and 16Gb of memory. It came as a refurb from the Dell outlet at around 70% of normal retail price, and that may be a good thing for more reasons than the obvious one. More later.

First off, there were hiccups with Dell actually taking payment, and the credit card (business) was refused. Then there was an email from someone in Dell that had clearly been pasted together from several other emails, all in different fonts and with spelling & grammatical errors, so that I thought my details had been passed outside & I was being scammed. After best part of a week when I'd tried phoning (I HATE calling call centres where I can't understand a word due to poor hearing and speech processing) I'd almost given up and begun to look around for something else. Then I had a call from someone at Dell, we went through the CC details again, payment went through & I got an order confirmation.

Whoopy do.

So it arrived this morning. Small, plain brown cardboard box just big enough to hold a 15" laptop and power supply. And apart from 2 tiny leaflets (quickstart guide and warranty info) that's all there was in the box too - no 'case candy', discs of any kind, letters from the chairman thanking me for my purchase, advertising bumph etc etc. The laptop didn't even come in a plastic bag. Packaging manufacturers nil, environment 1 I guess.

Now, in the past I have already set up several W8 machines, so though I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but it was with great trepidation that I took it from the box. This is still an expensive bit of kit for me, and if I didn't open it then it could still be returned.

First impression was very mac-like with nice aluminium lid, however flip it over and the carbon fibre bottom is pure Dell, with little vents, slots, rubber feet and all the lumpiness and weak design values that seem to be typical of PC manufacturers everywhere. After a Macbook, every PC seems to have been made by people who a) love plastic and b) have to design stuff with visible crevices and protrusions. It does, however, look very pleasing from the top and not so bad underneath as many models with its carbon-fibre base.

Weightwise it's pretty much exactly the same as the unibody macbook, but feels slightly lighter because it's larger and thinner (and distinctly less solid) kind of like a gigantic Macbook air. A look at the edges showed 2 USB 3.0 ports, headphone socket, mini-display port and HDMI ports on the left, 2 more USB ports (1 X 3.0, 1 X 2.0) plus SD card reader and security socket on the right. There's no RJ45 network port, but wireless is nearly ubiquitous now, and much less of an issue than it was 3 or 4 years ago.

The one bit of design that seems VERY dumb is the power cable, because the connector is a skinny jack that sticks straight out about 3cm before becoming flexible. Making this with a right angle so it protruded no more an a single centimeter (ha ha - Safari doesn't recognise the word centimeter) would have been sensible for a machine designed to travel, rather than sit on the MD's desk all day. Apple - your magsafe power connection wins this one with ease.

So, first start up.

The machine was created with a disc image that simulates the final steps to set up W8.1 after installing, so we go through the basic info about user ID and password, location, language and time, security and making sure all my personal data isn't sold to microsoft and Dell associates, then the screen where microsoft try to force you to create an account before letting you bypass the account requirements in a nasty and devious manner.

Finally the start screen appears.

It seems a bit small.

And there are large black bars either side too.



Where's control panel.

It is, however at this point that I become grateful a second time round for buying a refurb, because all the cruft and junkware that normally goes with a new machine (Bullguard aniti-virus? Bullsomething ;-) ) is absent. All of it. There's a Dell utility package to supply hardware-specific updates and the various Intel and NVidia driver specific packages, but outside that no symantec malware, no Norton stuff to slow the system to a crawl and crash legitimate apps. Just virgin W8.1.

So we re-size the screen from 1024:768 to 3200:1800 and I have to find some reading glasses to enable me to read text on dialogue boxes. But darn, this screen is AMAZING in the quality of images and resolution it presents. moving back to my main monitor - a Dell U2412M, itself a very good budget screen - I can see pixellation in the text and coloured fringing around fonts.

Eventually, somewhere along the line windows realises that I've changed screen resolution and re-sizes everything to make it readable with the naked eye.

Then we do 900Mb of updates, which downloads far faster than I'd have expected, but installs as slowly as one might have feared. ;-) While that happened I went through and set up the trackpad & so on - the default setting (middle of the slider) is really insensitive, and adjusting it to near max sensitivity makes it much closer to the Macbook trackpad, though still not quite to that standard. At least it's exactly the same size, which is really good (wouldn't have bought it otherwise - small trackpad is a dealbreaker)

After the updates, as I was starting to change the programs in the start menu to ones that might be useful a black box appeared containing and orange arrow and information telling me to swipe in from the side of the trackpad to control different aspects of windows.

Great, that's useful.

I demonstrate that I have read and understood by swiping in from both sides, top & bottom, flicking between start and desktop etc.

The box does not go away.

I restart. No box.

30sec later box reappears.

I run through every setting I can find, looking for a way to remove this B*st*rd box that's occupying my screen. No amount of clicking with various combinations will remove it.

Nothing will get rid of it.

I am quite cross and about to google for an answer when it just goes. Weird.

Setup continues, unspectacularly now. My credit card is refused again by Ebuyer when trying to by microsoft office - never had that happen before, so maybe dell have started a trend.

There's nothing else fun or entertaining to report - just the routine of installing software, printer drivers etc. Hopefully once Office is on there & I can move emails across (I sense a 'story' coming up there) then I can settle down with it for work.

Signing off - from the macbook - for now.

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