You Never Know How Much You Appreciate Your Tech…

July 3, 2011 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: business, design, tech.

…Until it’s Gone

So I know you’re going to take the piss here, me being a web designer/internet professional and all that, but I did buy my last laptop from PC World. I walked in to the Farnborough branch after my old laptop died a horrible hard-drive failure death in May/June 2010 and drooled over the shiny portable computers. The only ones that suited my web designer’s specification were, in one of my SEO client’s phrases that he uses for his web designers, “ferociously expensive”. All I wanted was:

  • a minimum of 4Gb RAM
  • a 17″ screen with a decent resolution (I get frustrated with pointless “big screens” but where the computer’s desktop is a mere 1024px width maximum) and
  • some speed – A genuinely fast PC (Ever notice how so many PCs are sold as “fast” when, in reallity, they’re really not? They may be faster than last year’s model but, once loaded with new and updated bloatware, they’re often as slow if not slower)

So I went to PC World online and found a laptop that I’d seen in the store at a vastly discounted rate – Sure, it was still an £800 machine, but I was saving around 20% of the shop price. The bonus was that it was an impressive spec, with 4Gb RAM, 17″ screen, 1920px resolution, an i7 quadcore processor (fast!), SD card reader, 4 USB ports, external VDU port, firewire, eSATA, twin headphone sockets, bass port… You get the picture. It was a really nice, well-specced machine, just right for my extensive (expensive!) needs.

Fast forward 11 months and we have a the warranty about to expire, a broken 3/£ key and a power pack that’s intermittent at best.

I take the laptop in to PC World so that the courier to pick it up from the store and take it to their repair shop. I’m told to expect it back in about 10 days time. Caveat: It can take up to 28 days. FFS it’s only getting a new keyboard and a power pack, not a complete stripdown and rebuild!

And so here I am without the best and fastest laptop I’ve ever had. And it doesn’t feel good to be stuck without it.

My alternative computing is via:

  • A 2006 Dell desktop PC at the office that takes 9 minutes to get to starting point despite just doubling the RAM last week to 4Gb.
  • A 2006 Dell 2Gb RAM laptop that has a failed LCD inverter and a patchy wireless/cable connection at home. It can only be used when hooked up to the office’s CAT5 cable and an external LCD screen, so it isn’t portable anymore and it’s one of those Dell models that used to get so hot it would sunburn the top of your thighs and, occasionally, catch fire! I’ve checked the motherboard temperature using speccy and, using it for everyday work, it easily hits and maintains well over 90°C
  • A 2000 HP desktop tower with just 1Gb RAM – It was a top-of-the-range PC when I purchased it for my business in November 2000 but is now, sadly, unable to handle speedy external HDDs, the demands of modern day antivirus software, browsers and video etc. But, compared to the Dell laptop, it does have a solid connection to the internet from home.
  • An iPhone 4
  • A 2008 Compaq laptop with expired HDD

Working with a relatively high-powered notebook for the last 6 years, that’s the form factor I prefer – It gives me flexibility and doesn’t shackle my abilities when I’m mobile. So, my only hope was the Dell notebook with an external screen at any place I needed to use it, except that it wouldn’t connect to the net from home. Furthermore, apart from being an incredibly hot-running machine, it was taking forever to download emails. I considered leaving it on all night to download from my numerous mail servers but I also considered the potential fire risk and decided it was best not to leave it running unattended.

So then I looked at my old Compaq – The HDD failed suddenly one night last year and, rather than simply get another drive, I decided to upgrade – It had been my SEO laptop for a couple of years but now I was getting more and more design jobs again so I needed to upgrade to a bigger screen and graphics card.

But now, without my superfast HP and a Dell that was crippling my workflow, the Compaq looked a decent alternative, even with the limited 1440px desktop.

A quick look at HDDs, I filtered the 3 star reviews over at Scan and then filtered the sub-£40 drives by spec. Replacing a 160Gb Toshiba OEM drive the options for a new SATA-II included 160Gb-320Gb discs. In the end I ditched the 5,400 rpm and 8Mb cache options for superior 7,200 rpm and 16Mb cache HDDs. A quick look at the excellent little review of the WD Scorpio Blue and Scorpio Black drives and my mind was made up.

2-day postage, 5 minute plug-in, 1 hour to restore the OS and a few hours to plug all the software and files back in (whilst watching TV, doing other stuff) and I had my freedom again.

In Conclusion

It’s been at least 11 days since I went without my excellent laptop and I’ve suffered immensely with the incompatibilities of email, software and drives between all of my old IBM PCs. It’s been compounded by an incredible workload (the MD went on vacation for 2 weeks), the time spent switching backups etc to new alternatives and then on again to the resurrected Compaq notebook.

It would have been cheaper, in terms of time and headaches, to have purchased a new keyboard and power pack rather than get it repaired under warranty for free – to be without your main money-making tool for nearly 2 weeks is a price I will not pay in future, especially when you work out “free” vs down time.

In future I will always have a backup laptop and system in place, ISO9001 quality management style. This was a personal machine but it has affected my work as well. If anyone’s got any advice on future backup issues then I’ll be happy to hear them? Drive copier? Use “the cloud”? Go Apple? Time Capsule? Wireless external backups? I’m all ears!

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