Friday, February 25, 2011

Re$istance is futile

220px-3_ResistorsAs I mentioned in my last post, I felt drawn to buy a netbook but was trying to resist because I couldn’t think of any kind of good reason. Well, to the surprise of no one, I did actually go ahead and buy it anyway. I’m not much for resisting the temptation to buy stuff once I start thinking about it – and I guess I’m doing my part to keep the economy going. I decided to go for the ASUS 1015PN in gloss white. I went definitely wanted the dual core CPU and was swayed to the NVIDIA graphics by the small price difference.

The netbook arrived just a couple days before a trip, so I got a chance to put it through its paces for real. It is a sweet, sweet PC. Since this one has a 10” screen, which is just a bit larger than my daughter’s 9” netbook, the entire thing is just a bit bigger. This is actually a good thing, as it allows for a pretty nice and usable keyboard. I was able to work on it quite naturally. The battery life is excellent, approaching about 7 hours of actual use if you have the WiFi off, the screen brightness low, and the CPU power saving on.

The only problem I experienced was that the memory upgrade that Amazon suggests for this model is not actually the right one. I returned that and ordered the correct one directly from Crucial. It didn’t arrive until I got back home but it snapped right in and worked like a charm.

I’d installed Microsoft Office 2010 and while it worked fine and had some nice features – like the customizable ribbon and sweet Excel Sparkline graphs – it was just too dang big and slow loading for my tastes. Plus, the Office Search Commands add-in doesn’t work on it and I really like that. I’m just in the process of uninstalling 2010 and putting Office 2007 on in its place. Outlook remains a complete stoopid pig of an application in either version – so at least they are consistent. <sarcasm> Someday the Outlook team will discover multithreading. That will be cool. </sarcasm>

So what did I do with my netbook?

  • Worked on documents for my current project on the Xbox team
  • Cruised the web via my phone’s 3G connection while my wife was driving through the middle of nowhere – thanks to USB tethering
  • Edited some photos
  • Played games (I’d loaded up Microsoft Arcade, Revenge of Arcade, etc.)
  • Played around writing some C# code in Visual Studio and my Java environment (jGrasp)
  • And, yes, blogs, Facebook, etc.

I’m pretty happy with it. Since I was short on RAM while I was on the trip, I stuck a spare 4GB SD card in the slot and gave it to Windows 7 ReadyBoost. This actually did seem to make a difference over time as it cached things for the programs I used frequently. Now that I have the 2GB of RAM in, this probably doesn’t make much difference, so I’m going to pull it out.

dvdAlong with the netbook itself, I also picked up the matching external DVD drive and a snazzy black and red neoprene case. The drive is nice. Not sure about the vertical orientation yet. It is pretty hard to get the discs in and out of it in that position. (but it looks great)

The great thing about this ASUS netbook is that it is small and portable like an iPad, but it actually does useful stuff in addition to web browsing (<ahem> with Flash) and games. True, it isn’t instant on like an iPad, but it comes back from sleep in less than 4 seconds – which is pretty instant.

So 5 stars for the ASUS 1015PN netbook. Just make sure you get the correct RAM for it and don’t blindly accept Amazon’s recommendations.

“It’s so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up”
                                                                 Ferris Bueller

Here’s what I’ve currently got loaded – the bold items are the things every netbook should have:

  • Windows 7 Ultimate – OK, not everyone has these laying around and it would make for a spendy upgrade from the included Windows 7 Starter. I needed at least Home Premium to get Aero, changeable wallpaper, etc. and with Ultimate, I can also use Remote Desktop to connect to my netbook from another computer and control it remotely. Starter was completely capable of getting the job done, but I didn’t want to be missing anything. (I did remove Windows Media Center after installing Ultimate though.) 
    ***UPDATE*** I forgot to mention one of the big reasons to update to a better version of Win7. Starter Edition doesn’t support Nvidia Optimus which automagically switches between the low power Intel graphics and the better but more battery hungry Nvidia Ion graphics. If you are running Starter, you will have to manually switch between them and restart after you change the setting – which is definitely NOT magical. 
  • MS Office 2007 Ultimate - Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Outlook
  • Search Commands – this is a free add-on for Office from Microsoft’s OfficeLabs team. Basically, it helps you find stuff that got moved around when they added the ribbon. Very handy even now
  • MS Visio 2010 Premium – for all my diagramming needs
  • MS Project 2010 – occupational hazard, gotta have it
  • Microsoft Security Essentials – Free, downloadable and excellent virus and malware protection
  • Firefox – I’m looking forward to IE9, but for now, Firefox is my default browser
  • Adobe Flash Player and Reader – can’t live without these
  • MS Digital Image Suite 2006 – yes, it’s old and no longer made, but I quite like it. I do have Photoshop on my desktop machine now, but I still use Digital Image most
  • Corel Painter Essentials 4 – fun painting and sketching program
  • Amazon Kindle PC – it’s Kindle…for the PC
  • MS Arcade – Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Missile Command, Tempest
  • MS Return of Arcade – Dig Dug, Pac Man, Galaxian, Pole Position
  • MS Revenge of Arcade – Mappy, Motos, Ms. Pac Man, Rally X, Xevious
  • MS Windows Live Essentials – Messenger, Mesh, Movie Maker, Photo Gallery, Writer, Mail
  • MS Visual Studio 2008 – for my code writing needs
  • jGrasp – (and Sun’s Java Development Kit) for my other code writing needs
  • MS Home Server Connector – so my neato Windows Home Server can back up my little notebook
  • Skype
  • MagicDisk – a free app that lets you store CD images. This means I can play Age of Empires without having the actual CD plugged in
  • Age of Empires 1 & 2 – still my favorite RTS games
  • MS Streets & Trips 2010 – sometimes you just need a map when you don’t have web connectivity – like on an airplane, or in Idaho

I also have about 15GB of music on there too. Basically our entire home catalog minus the Christmas stuff, kids stuff, and most of the church stuff. (I should not that those categories are about another 10 GIGABYTES all together – that’s a lot of Christmas music.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Netbook Ruminations

I’ve been lusting after a netbook lately. You know, like I did for my Kindle last Fall.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Netbooks have really grown up quite a bit. The two I’m looking at are the ASUS 1015PEM and the ASUS 1015PN. Both use the new dual CPU Intel Atom 550. Tnetbookhe 1015PN has an actual Nvidia graphics card instead of just the Intel onboard graphics. The cool thing is you can switch back and forth between them. The Nvidia when you are playing a game and need the 3D power; the Intel when you are just doing web browsing or watching a movie or whatever. The tradeoff being battery life. With the Intel you get like 10 hours to a charge.

Of course, there’s no free lunch. The 1015PN is about $380 on Amazon, while the 1015PEM is about $325.

I don’t really play much in the way of games on the PC anyway, which kind of begs the question of why I’d pay the extra 50 clams. (the PN also has Bluetooth and USB 3.0 and HDMI and other geeky stuff, but nothing really cool – like an ice cream maker or something)

And the REAL question is - why do I feel so drawn to these things? What on earth would I do with it? When I’m off doing Army stuff, like I will be soon, it would be handy to do email and web browsing and stuff. Unlike an iPad, I could run Office or even Visual Studio if I wanted to, and I could view web sites with Flash. But most likely, I wouldn’t do any of that.

So I’m kind of at the point where I wish I could come up with some semi-compelling reason to buy one. But I can’t. Bummer. I’ve probably never gotten over my tech-envy when my daughter bought a netbook back in 2009. Or it could be that it is just more entertaining to think of spending money on a netbook rather than getting the brakes done on my car.

And I should clarify that I do still love my Kindle. I use it all the time and just finished a 350 page book on it. Come to think of it, I also use the Kindle for email and Facebook and games. It weighs nothing, the battery goes for weeks or a month, and it has free 3G wireless.