Avoiding buying a new laptop…

I am getting really tired of some of the… idiosyncracies of my wonderful current laptop… that is now 5.5 years old. Tarot has some issues (Not the Tarot you’re thinking of, unless you know why my desktop is named Ghostwheel, and my other desktop Logrus…). He’s just been abused for several years.

I want a new laptop. I just can’t convince myself to spend the money — or that I necessarily have the money to spend. However, I could be wrong. I could use a laptop, I’m certain. At the same time, I know that there’s always new and better technology coming down the pipe, and in a year I could probably buy a laptop that will actually run Windows Vista. It might not be out in a year, but at least I could upgrade…

So I’m trying to narrow down what I would need to do to Tarot in order to be happy with him for a while. A year and a half ago I upgraded the harddrive from the 10gig to a 40gig drive, so I’m okay on that front. As to everything else:

  1. CPU – 600Mhz is slow, but can’t be easily upgraded (and not sure my Inspiron could be.)
  2. Memory – 384MB is a bit on the low end in my world. Unfortunately, 512MB is the maximum for Tarot. Oddly enough, a 256MB PC100 SODIMM costs MORE than a 512MB DDR2 SODIMM 533. $100 for 256MB??? EDIT: Thanks, Jonathan for reminding me to check Crucial. ~$50 is much more reasonable.
  3. Hard Drive – 40GB is slightly less space than I would like (Ghostwheel has 670GB when every drive is working).
  4. Floppy drive – Oddly enough, my laptop comes with a floppy drive. A removable one. It’s somewhere in our new house. *thinks* Maybe in the breakfast nook?
  5. USB ports – So, six months ago, I had a custom USB memory key plugged into one of the USB ports on the back of Tarot. Then Tarot fell. Onto the USB key. Which destroyed the custom USB key — or, rather, broke the USB’s case and made the electronic components completely dysfunctional. Which was a problem. It also wrecked havoc with the USB ports. I think one of them is completely FUBAR’d. The other is a bit finicky. That is a bit of a problem, no?
  6. PCMCIA slots – These work. Maybe. At least, the Compact Flash adapter does. At the same time, the D-Link 802.11b wireless PCMCIA card causes my computer to… call it “stall.” Mysteriously, Tarot’s clock goes out of sync to the tune of hours on the week. I gave up on it after a while. It also tends to have issues picking up networks, though, so I think it’s the card. The only reason I’m not sure it’s the card is because I also had issues with a SmartCard reader for Remote connections to work, so… PCMCIA slots is only 50/50 working.
  7. Wireless internet – this may be mentioned before… My current DLink card kept me happy for years. Until last winter, when I ended up staying at Mandrina’s place for a few months after she had surgery. She now lives in our house, so that worked out okay, but my wireless card took a bit of a beating while I lived there. On at least three separate occasions, Tarot dropped to the floor from a height — and landed on the external antenna for the card. It’s now to the point that in order to get my wireless card to work, I have to make sure to bend the card in the PCMCIA slot (see above), and hope. The entire casing, both for the antenna and the card itself, is snapped off, and no longer secured. Fortunately, I had our new house wired throughout (see below). I still have to decide how important this is to me, ’cause it sure as heck doesn’t work right now! (Call it $50 for a 802.11b/g card, going by BestBuy pricing — aka, first tech store site I happened to have opene).
  8. Wired internet – Due to the sheer quantity of network-enabled devices I have in my possession, added on to Mandrina’s few, it made sense to wire the house for Cat-5e while redoing the electrical and putting in RG-6 for the cable. So the house has multiple network jacks throughout, all hooked onto a fairly nice router/firewall in the basement. Wireless internet has effectively been made unnecessary in the house, and I like it that way. Unfortunately, Tarot does not. 5(!) years ago, I was working in a research lab. Tarot came with me to work each day, like a good little laptop. I hooked him into the network, and did both my work when my workstation wasn’t available, and helped some of the other people in the research lab out with their senior design project — admittedly, I knew next to nothing about the Bluetooth stack at the time, but they didn’t know much about it either. At one point in time, Tarot was hooked into the network, sitting on the one desk in the office. Unfortunately, someone tripped on the network cable. Which pulled out, luckily enough, before Tarot could fall to the floor (see previous entries on Tarot falling). Unluckily, the system to keep the network cable in the network port broke at that point, and it’s gotten worse ever since. Now Tarot can decide to go offline if I breathe wrong. I particularly enjoy having to worry that if I type too hard, my network cable is going to come out. Given that I use Tarot to remotely connect to work, this is something of a problem. So call it $30 to get a working wired network connection — 10/100, not 10/100/1000.
  9. Power – This is the one place that any new machine I buy will be a degraded experience. I have two batteries for Tarot. Tarot has two battery bays. Can you say FIVE HOURS of laptop usage without an outlet? Admittedly, the only reason this still works is because I purchased two new batteries two and a half years ago when I got fed up with the laptop batteries not holding any charge… and I got Dell to send out a technician just before my warrantee expired to replace the charging component that had been fried at some point… but it works now, gosh-darnit!
  10. Display – My 14.1″ 1400×1050 display only really annoys Mandrina — she thinks it’s too small. I like it, quite frankly. It’s a little dented from hitting the keyboard (see “falling,” above.), but other than that… no dead pixels. Wait, maybe one or two…
  11. Keyboard – Needs cleaning. I disassembled it last year. It needs cleaning again.
  12. Touchpad & eraser nub – I must say that I particularly appreciated the Dell Inspiron 8000 design choice of providing BOTH a touchpad and eraser nub for input. Since I had never had a laptop before, I didn’t know which I would like. (I turned out to be mostly a touchpad man, for the record). This way, I didn’t have to guess wrong! Unfortunately, there are also some issues with the touchpad: if I’m not logged in as me, or my settings get lost (I’m not blaming MS for this one, the driver from Synaptic is fairly wonky), the settings all reset. Between the eraser nub now responding to every character I type and the sensitivity on the touchpad going up, the system is terribly annoying to use. This is NOT the worst case, however — occasionally if I’ve moved the laptop too much (aka, carried it somewhere), the touchpad system gets disconnected from the motherboard. Then there’s no mouse. And, quite frankly, aside from the touchscreen on TabletPCs, no external mouse is yet as convenient as either the touchpad or the eraser nub. This is not replaceable, or repairable, unfortunately. As long as it doesn’t get disconnected, it’s also not quite a reason for replacing Tarot. Given that I have to say that it might get disconnected, it is a reason to replace Tarot.
  13. The case itself – See previous notes on “falling” and “from height.” Tarot is in surprisingly good shape. Aside from the fact that recently, I have overtightened screws. Which I then couldn’t get out the next time I needed to disassemble the system (it’s good to be familiar with your hardware, at least). So currently, I CAN’T take Tarot apart if I needed to, and in some places… there’s an amount of bowing in the plastic, particularly around the hinge for the display, that makes me… nervous. I’m fairly gently anytime I move it.
  14. The system turns itself off – Basically, Tarot needs to be babied. Bump him the wrong way, and… well, if you’re lucky, the system just turns itself off. If you’re unlucky, you lose mouse privileges for the day.
  15. Weight – Tarot + 2 batteries ~= 9lbs. He’s a heavy machine! He was released back when having “Power Save mode” was a novelty. Tarot HAS a Pentium III 650 Mhz Speed-step processor. Tarot also has a desktop chipset in there, so Tarot is not able to switch dynamically from the high, power-hungry speed to the slower, power-miser speed when I switch off outlet power — at least, not without powering completely off twice in between.
  16. Optical drive – Tarot’s combination DVD/CD drive (yes, that’s not a typo — no “R/W” in the picture.) seems to be having problems. As in, it can’t always read disks, and occasionally ejects itself.

 So there you have it! I’m sure there are good things about Tarot (Did I mention the system seems to overheat on a regular basis? Leading to the system freezing? Just checking) that I’ve forgotten, but he’s also been a good computer. He kept me sane throughout Professor Skinner’s classes in senior year of college (in junior year, I paid attention for a while). He dual-booted to Linux, and allowed me to run software no one else knew was freely available and thought they had to go to lab to use. He currently has VSTO v2 and VS.Net2k3 installed side-by-side, so he has good reason to feel confused. He also has a random account called “LimitedAccess” that I was using to test file permissions for work.

Making Tarot usable for another year (at least) will require some dough. Figure: memory upgrade + wireless PCMCIA card + wired PCMCIA card + USB hub (or USB card, still not sure) = okay. Assuming that the PCMCIA ports work. That would put me out about $150, but Tarot could survive… I don’t know if any of the ports currently work, though, so… I guess I should check that first.

I just don’t know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  1. Dude, buy a new laptop. There’s nothing about your existing laptop that functions the way it should. Get a cheap new laptop so that at least everything will work — that’ll cost less than fixing half of what’s wrong with Tarot — and then upgrade in a year or two.

    Oh, how I loathe modern society for making it easier to replace than repair.