Posts in category hardware - page 7

Dell get pushy with insurance/extended warranties

We’ve all experienced the pushy salesman trying to get us to buy insurance/extended warranties when buying goods in stores but now it seems Dell are taking this to the extreme.

Last month we decided to buy my little brother a PC of his own and headed over to Dell and so my story starts.

We found a Dimension 1100 with 512MB RAM, 80GB HD, CDRW/DVD combo drive, Celeron D 2.5GHz with on-board sound & video, XP Home and the usual keyboard/mouse combo for £144 (ex VAT). You can see the ex-VAT prices by choosing Small Business instead of Home.

Pushy web site

Dell show lots of attractive prices but the moment you hit Customize & Buy the tricks start as the price shoots up when they tack a 3 Year on-site service on.

To remove this massive increase some £80 on this system (40% of the purchase price!) you must expand the Cover It with Dell Support Services section and switch to No service upgrade selected – 90 Day Collect and Return service only.

It’s interesting to note that they refer to the standard warranty as “90 Day” when in fact it is a full year warranty. I guess they are hoping to scare people into shelling out for insurance.

Anyway, I had the spec I wanted and because the site doesn’t understand the VAT-free nature of the Channel Islands it was time to call them to try and order the system…

Pushy salesman 1

The moment I got through to sales I made it clear I was ordering from Guernsey and so would need the order VAT-free. I didn’t want to go through the whole process twice once with the wrong department.

My Indian sales representative took the details of the system I wanted to order – it took over 15 minutes to get the right system for the right price.

At least half that time was him trying to get me to not remove the 3 year warranty. Eventually he took my address details and said he couldn’t help me because they didn’t deal with the Channel Islands and that I’d need another department.

Exactly the problem I’d hoped to avoid with my first statement.

I asked which department and number I needed – he didn’t know. He did however get somebody to call me back. That leads to my next salesman…

Pushy salesman 2

My second Indian salesman couldn’t pick up the order from the first salesman so we had to start again.

If I thought the first salesman was pushy then the second one took the biscuit. Some of his phrases included;

  • “What will you do if it goes wrong”
  • “Listen to me” (x3)
  • “If it is shipped back you will have to pay 50% of the costs”
  • “It is just a few pence a day”
  • “You can not fix it yourself”
  • “Isn’t that a good deal for peace of mind”
  • “It even includes accidental damage” (Err, so does my home insurance)

Anyway, eventually I had to be very firm with him and we proceeded with the order. He went through a similar thing with needing ink and a cable for the free printer – neither of which are cheap. In the end I told him to keep the printer as we didn’t want it anyway.

The order details were taken although I had to chase a couple of days later for email confirmation the system arrived and worked just fine.

Aftersales 1

I received an email saying I could rate the buying experience online. Needless to say I made my feelings on pushy salesman trying to offer support contracts known.

Aftersales 2

Today was the final pestering that would inspire a blog rant… a call from Dell asking how my Dimension 1100 is going.

Me: “Absolutely fine, no problems.”

Dell: “Oh, that’s good. You didn’t take the 3 year support, is that really what you wanted?”

Me: “Yes, absolutely.”

Dell: “Ok, bye.”

Well, okay at least he wasn’t pushy but how many times must I tell them no. By my count it’s at least 3 if you exclude the sales and after-sales rating web sites.

Are they worth it?

If you are really lost with PC’s maybe they are – but if you write software for a living and put your first PC together 10 years ago probably not.

My Hitachi TV came with a free 5 year extended warranty. It covered £140 of repairs when it decided it wouldn’t switch on any more – finding somebody to repair it was a whole other issue. My thanks to Sarnia Radio in Victoria Road for rising to the challenge and doing a sterling repair job.

I did once take out an extended warranty of sorts on a 3 piece sofa suit for £100 (less than 10% of the price) which included coating the whole thing with ScotchGard protector which has kept it totally mark-free for the last 10 years :) If you burnt or damaged it then the warranty would kick-in.

[)amien

Life with Windows & Boot Camp on the MacBook Pro…

Performance

The performance is quite amazing.

World of Warcraft runs nicely under Windows giving an acceptable 20 fps at 1440×900 24-bit color 24-bit depth 1xmultisample with everything turned up high or on. Dropping down the anisotropic to mid-point and turning off the full-screen glow effect and smooth shading bumps that up to 30 fps.

Unplugging the power means ATI’s PowerPlay kicks in which can results in a 50% speed reduction as the X1600 GPU cuts it’s clock from 310MHz down to 128MHz and a similar drop for it’s 256MB GDDR3 RAM. You can turn this off by un-checking the PowerPlay option in the ATI driver settings.

Everest provides a few interesting details including some synthetic benchmarks that show memory performance to be near a Pentium D 820 with Dual DDR400 – a little disappointing given that the laptop is equipped with DDR2-667 SO-DIMM’s.

Memory was a single Micron 1GB module with 5-5-5-15 timings. I added another 1GB of Kingston – a more patient me would have picked up 1GB from Crucial for half Apple’s asking price. Installing the memory isn’t as easy as flipping up the keyboard on the TiBook but only required a couple of minutes and a small Philips screwdriver.

The CPU benchmarks are where it shines with it out performing the P4 530HT, P4EE HT and Athlon64 3200+. Only the Athlon64 X2 3800+ beat it in two of the three tests. FPU performance placed it directly below the desktop chips I’ve mentioned but comfortable margin above a P4 2.8GHz again on two of the three test. On FPU SinJulia it came second only to a 8 way P3 Xeon 550MHz…

Hardware

Running Everest also shed some light on the internals. Worryingly it identified the Core Duo T2500 CPU as being an “Engineering Sample” but I’m putting this down to Everest warning at start-up that the current version doesn’t know much about Core Duo (Yonah).

The motherboard is identified as an Apple design equipped with the Intel Calistoga-G i945GM north bridge and Intel 82801GBM ICH7-M south bridge. These are part of the Centrino 3 (Napa) platform but having gone with the Atheros AR5006X Wireless instead of Intel’s own 3945ABG they’ve missed out on compliance. They’ve gained 108 MBit and extended range though.

The south bridge is home to Intel’s high definition sound using the SigmalTel STAC9220 and provides the two PCI-E x1 links to the wireless and Marvell Yukon 88E8053 gigabit Ethernet.

Everest was unable, sadly, to report any sensor information such as fan speed and CPU temperature. Hopefully this is possible in a future update. The hard drive was running at 42°c and is a Seagate Momentus ST9100824AS as I went with the stock 100GB 5400RPM.

Windows annoyances

First up is the clock… as far as I can tell Windows uses the BIOS to set/determine local time while Mac OS X uses it to store GMT and adds the appropriate time zone offset. For me here in the UK this just means a one hour shift either way but obviously the problem gets worse the further away from GMT you are.

Next is the keyboard.. While eject is mapped the various volume controls and brightness etc are not. Also get used to the Mac keyboard being slightly different to Windows – alt and Apple/Win are in each others places and various symbols are where they would be on a Windows keyboard – not where they are on your Mac’s.

One oddity is the SPDIF laser is on by default, shining it’s red rays out from the left of your laptop onto whatever might be nearby. Head into the SigmaTel Control Panel and disable Digital Output before somebody looses an eye.

Battery life

One worrying thing is the battery life – something which Apple have been very quiet about indeed. Unplugging the power at 100% battery charge in Windows with all the default power saving stuff turned on reports a lifetime of around 2 hours with a few apps loaded but idle.

While this is on par with other T2500 based systems such as the ASUS A6J it falls a bit short of the 3-hour expectancy set by the Pentium M and significantly short of the PowerBook G4’s 5 hour. No wonder they didn’t want to mention it.

I’d hope that Intel will release updated chipset drivers that better under-clock the system on demand but I won’t hold my breath.

[)amien

Apple’s Boot Camp and my new MacBook Pro

Apple announced their Boot Camp technology – basically a set of drivers for Windows XP, a wizard to help resize your existing disk partition and the necessary magic to load XP from the EFI BIOS.

I can imagine the Windows on Mac Intel project that raised $12,000 USD are wondering why they bothered…

Anyway, it’s good news for me as this means my Dell 8100 and TiBook G4 1GHz are now replaced with a single machine I can use at home for media goodness and at work for Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 etc. Clarissa gets my Dell upgrade and I guess the TiBook will find a place on eBay.

Hardware

The hardware looks quite different from the TiBook – the keyboard is the same grey as the rest of the machine as opposed to the slightly translucent charcoal of the TiBook. I’d have gone with the TiBook’s look in this department until the MacBook Pro’s light sensor powers up the keyboard back light and the keys glow through….

On the other hardware fronts the machine’s finish feels less polished than the TiBook – Aluminum isn’t as cool as Titanium either… The ports on the side takes a bit of getting used to but I’m finding it less likely to snag the dongles and keyboards when they’re visible there…

The built-in 802.11G (as opposed to the B), web cam (tiny, great picture quality and lots of fun with Photo Booth) and built-in Bluetooth are all very welcome additions. The way the headphone and microphone jacks have fibre-optic inside the jack itself is pretty sweet engineering too.

Sounds is greatly improved and for a laptop sounds pretty damn good although still not up to external speakers obviously. The screen has very slightly less pixels but is substantially brighter.

One bad thing is the machine heats up pretty damn hot even with the latest firmware update. If there is a fan it’s either off or damn quiet… I’d prefer a bit of fan noise over cooler legs. Don’t even think of using it while wearing shorts.

I spent a few minutes trying to find the fabled Front Row app but couldn’t see it anywhere. I installed the dev tools and X11 from the optional stuff on the DVD but still no sign. In desperation I picked up the included infra-red remote and nearly fell off my chair as the screen shrunk and rotated while transparent icons flew over the top. :o I guess the X1600 Mobility can shift some serious polygons.

Boot Camp

First off I had to upgrade the MacBook Pro’s firmware and restart then into the Boot Camp Assistant which burnt me a CD-R full of Windows drivers before letting me re-partition my disk and asking for the XP SP2 CD. A quick reboot later and the familiar Windows XP installer became my home for the next hour.

Windows behaved exactly as expected and Apple have included a couple of minor tools such as monitor brightness and a driver to map the eject key. Graphics were taken care of by the ATI driver and sound by drivers from Sigmatel. The Bluetooth stuff works fine and is identified as Apple…

There are still a few devices unknown in Device Manager at the moment but I’m sure Apple will address those as they can. If they can’t I’m sure third parties will fill the void. One notable absence at the moment is the keyboard back-lighting doesn’t work under Windows.

Migration

My iPod 60GB has been a savior here allowing me to transfer important folders from my old mac such as Music, Movies, Delicious Library, Address Book, Mail and Documents.

I’m sure using the transfer option would have been easier but I didn’t want my crusty 3 year old profile full of god only knows what hitting this machine.

Compatibility

It’s run my usual apps fine so far although I’ve gone and re-downloaded all my favorite apps to make sure I get the Intel/Universal binaries where possible.

The only exception so far seem to be the Flip4Mac drivers to enable WMV/WMA support inside QuickTime which specifically told me they wouldn’t install on Intel and that I should check back soon…

[)amien

Dell 2405FPW monitor review

Having now spent the best part of a month beneath the shadow of Dell’s 24″ wide-screen LCD behemoth, the 2405FPW, I thought a mini-review might be in order.

Twenty four inches might not sound big for a monitor when compared a TV but bear in mind you’ll be sitting only a couple of feet away. It will take up most of your vision without moving your head. In fact RSI of the neck could become an issue here if you are not sitting far enough way to take it all in one go.

The 1920×1200 panel is sharp with no blurring or edge enhancement artifacting over DVI (unlike my Iiyama E511). Getting the color temperature right was a little fiddly and the menus themselves ok if you can get used to a horizontal row of buttons providing vertical movement. The 16ms response time is superb with no ghosting or other problems even in games such as Half-Life 2 DeathMatch.

The beast is equipped with DVI, VGA, component, composite and s-video inputs with the last three available as picture-in-picture on top of the DVI or D-Sub. This means that if you’ve got a video recorder, DVD player or satellite system or games console then the Dell will be happy to display those too.

It features a four port USB 2 hub and 9-in-1 media reader for pulling data off the numerous flash cards around. This turns out to be significantly faster than using a camera and it’s USB cable. Dell thoughtfully include both VGA and DVI cables in the box and the stand allows the monitor to be vertically positioned to your preference. It also has the ability to rotate the display 90′ from landscape to portrait however this feature seems ill thought out and the cables are easily caught up despite the stands attempts at cable management.

Overclockers are doing them for £599 ex-VAT this week and Dell have offers on all the time. Just check out the small business and home sections separately, as there are often offers only for one market. HotUKDeals sometimes have additional discount coupons too (and not just for Dell).

A real winner of a display packing a great quality panel and a whole host of features at a price below the competition even when at full retail price. For comparison (all are 1920×1200, 3 year warranty):

  • Dell 2405FPW 24″ DVI/VGA/s-video/composite/component, 4xUSB2,16ms response, 1000:1 contrast, £580-£799
  • Apple Cinema Display 23″ DVI, 2xUSB2 2xFW400, 16ms response, 400:1 contrast, £894
  • Samsung SM-243T 24″ DVI, 25ms response, 500:1 contrast, £874
  • Viewsonic VP231wb 23″ DVI/VGA, 16ms response, 500:1 contrast, £1034

[)amien