Friday, May 23, 2008

Vista Spiffs 1

Simple things you can do to improve your Vista experience and performance.

The following are simple things you can do to improve Windows Vista. Most only take a few moments and although I've written about some of them before, they are worth repeating. Many of these ideas also work in XP. On a personal note, Vista has all-but been abandoned by Microsoft and the user community; consider upgrading to Windows 7. I realize it is expensive and time consuming to upgrade.

Contents:
  • Install/Confirm Vista SP1
  • SP1 Cleanup Tool
  • Missing Windows Explorer Menu Bar
  • Missing Start, RUN
  • Set Classic Start Menu
  • Speed up the Start Menu (Fading)
  • Explorer - Show Folder Options (show menus; don't hide extensions)
  • Adding MyComputer, Network Places to the desktop
  • Narrow Windows Border Thickness
  • Reduce Desktop Icon Sizes (especially for Netbooks)
  • Add Notepad to SendTo menu
  • Change Default Shutdown from Sleep to Power-Off
  • Speedup SATA drives
  • Turn off Superfetch
  • Cleanup Startup Programs
  • Turn off unneeded Services

Vista SP1: A Requirement
If you are running Microsoft Vista, and have not installed Vista Service Pack 1, do so now. SP1 rolls up about 500 different patches and many of these were only available to corporate users until now. You may be shocked at 500 different patches, but this number is not out of line with previous XP Service packs. The update fixes 75 IE security problems, but more importantly, there are over 50 sleep, hibernation and shutdown patches. These have improved my Vista experience and have helped both the laptop and desktop computers.

How to tell you have it: Start, Windows Explorer; on the folder-tree, scroll until you find "Computer". 'Other-mouse-click' Computer and read the Windows edition text in the center of the screen.

SP1 Cleanup Tool
Reclaim the Service Pack's un-install files by running the Vista SP1 Cleanup tool, which was installed with the Service Pack. This recovers disk space varying from 600MB to a Gig. Do the following:

1. Start, Run
"C:\Windows\System32\vsp1cln.exe".

Are you missing the Start, Run command? See "Start Menu and Mousing Around," below.


Windows Explorer Missing Menu Bar

If you miss the Windows Explorer "File, Edit" Menu bar, get it back with these steps:
1. Launch Windows Explorer.
2. Choose button-bar "Organize", Layout, then "MenuBar".



Start-Men
u and Mousing Around

Do you find yourself wandering aimlessly around in the Start Menu looking for a program you know was there the other day? Don't you find the new Start Menu vaguely confusing? If so, revert the Start Menu to the "Classic" version (illustrated on right) with these steps.

1. Click Start, Control Panel (or Settings), "TaskBar and Start Menu".
2. Click the top [Start Menu] tab.
3. Choose "Classic", then "Customize".

4. In Customize, choose the following options:
[x] Display Logoff.
[x] Display Run (which Enables Start, Run).
[x] Show small icons in Start Menu.
[ ] Uncheck personalized menus!

Other choices may be clicked or unclicked; leave them as you see fit, but the ones above are the most interesting, especially the Personalized menus. By disabling this feature, the icons stay in the same order on the Start Menu and do not re-shuffle and hide themselves based on use. Trust me: you will love these changes.


Other Menu Speedup Items:

1. For Vista:
Select Control Panel, "Performance Information and Tools".
In the left-menu, choose "
Adjust Visual Effects".

For Windows XP:
Other-mouse-click "MyComputer", Properties;
Click The "Advanced" tab. Click in the Performance Section, "Settings"


2. In the "Visual Effects" tab, choose "Custom":

[ ] Uncheck Animate controls and elements.
[ ] Uncheck Animate Windows when minimizing.
[ ] Uncheck Fade or slide menus into view.
[ ] Uncheck Slide open Combo Boxes.
[ ] Uncheck Smooth-scroll list boxes.

These will make the computer seem noticeably faster and they do not detract from other Vista beatifications, such as AeroGlass. I reserve special animosity for the smooth-scrolling list box option. Enabling this option makes all pull-down menus intolerably slow and I cackle gleefully when ever it is unchecked.


Explorer Folder Options

Show all files and all extension:

1. In Control Panel, Folder Options, [View] tab:
[x] Check Always Show Menus.
[ ] Uncheck Hide Extensions for known file types.

By unhiding File Extensions you can tell a SETUP.EXE from a SETUP.HLP or SETUP.HTML. It is beyond me why Microsoft would hide this important information as their default. This helps protect you from viruses and other malware.


Are You Missing MyComputer?


Are you missing the "(My)Computer" and "(My)Network" icons from the desktop? Get them back on the desktop. Mercifully, they have been renamed to "Computer" and "Network".

1. Select Control Panel, Personalization.
2. Choose left-menu "Change Desktop Icons".


Window Border Thickness

Change Vista's default window-border thickness from a child-like "4" to 1, by:

1. Right-click desktop, choose Personalize

2. Select "Windows Color and Appearance"
Choose the Aero Color Scheme (or Windows Vista Basic if you have an older computer)
Click "Open Classic Appearance Properties", "Advanced"

3. In the "Item" pull-down, select Border Padding
Recommend setting to "1"


Desktop Icon Sizes:

I've found, especially on netbooks, that the default icon sizes are too large when compared to the smaller screens. Only make these changes if you think your icons are too large; for most machines these steps should be skipped:

1. Other-mouse-click the desktop; choose "Personalize"

2. Choose Windows, "Color and Appearance"
(on XP, choose Desktop Properties, the "Appearance" tab).

3. Click the blue link: "Open classic appearance properties"

4. Click the "Advanced" button; choose Item: "Icon"
Change the size to "48" to "32"

5. Choose Item "Icon Spacing (Vertical)"
Change the size from "48" to "32"

6. For Windows XP only: Return to the previous screen, choose button "Effects"
Confirm [ ] Use Large Icons is unchecked

7. You must reboot to see the Vertical Spacing change.


SendTo Menu

Often I want to peek inside of files and I often need to view them in Notepad. To add Notepad.exe to the "SendTo" menu, do the following:

1. Start, Run:
%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\SendTo


2. Once the folder opens, "other-mouse-click" in a blank area in the icon list and create a new shortcut.
3. Name the shortcut "Notepad". Use this command line: "notepad.exe".

To test the new shortcut, locate an ASCII text document on your C: drive (e.g. a ReadMe.txt file somewhere); other-mouse-click, select "SendTo", Notepad. This saves you the trouble of selecting "Open With."


Change the Default Shutdown from "Sleep" to "Shut Down"


When you click Start, Shutdown, the computer probably defaults to "Sleep". Follow these steps to change it to "Shut Down".

1. Windows Control Panel, Power Options

2. Choose each of the options, "High Performance," "Balanced", and "Power Save"

3. For each option, scroll down the list, locating "Power Buttons and Lid"

4. Change the "Start Menu Power Button option":
Change onBattery and Plugged in from "Sleep" to "Shutdown"
Apply the changes; move to the next set of options (e.g. Balanced)


Speed-up SATA Drives

If you have a newer computer, especially a laptop, speed up the SATA hard disks by

1. Other-mouse-click desktop icon (MyComputer).
2. Choose "Manage"; Choose Disk Management.
3. Locate your hard disk in the bottom-center list.
4. Other-mouse-click "Properties".
5. Click the [Policies] Tab.
6. Check [x] "Enable Write Cache".
7. If you have a battery UPS or laptop, check "Enable Advanced"


Turn off Superfetch

Windows Superfetch pre-loads programs into memory based on past usage. If for example, you always use IE or Firefox, Vista detects this and loads a copy of the program in a pre-fetch cache directory. Then, each time you boot, it pre-loads the program into memory for faster launching. In other words, the program loads even if you have no intention on using it.

There is some admittedly interesting technology at play here. Vista monitors when you load programs and can prefetch them at different times of the day, but as you can imagine, pre-loading adds a lot of time to your computer's startup time.

I suspect that most computers running Vista have adequate CPU, disk and memory and are modern enough to load the programs from scratch without much effort. Turning off Prefetch will take longer to load programs, but it will save memory and startup-time. You may want to experiment with this setting and rather than relying on benchmarks, go by gut-feel; does the computer boot faster? Do the applications load in a reasonable time?

To disable Prefetch:
1. Start, Run, Services.msc.
2. Locate services "Superfetch".
3. Other-mouse-click and "Stop" the service.
4. In the service's Properties, set the Startup Type to "Disabled".


Startup Programs:

As you install programs, most vendors sneak little utilities into two different startup areas. Many of these programs are fluff and are not needed. Periodically, I peruse these to see if there are programs that can be weeded-out. Usually there are.

See this article for a more complete description on cleaning up Start Menu items.

In the Startup Group (C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup), consider unchecking these programs:

* QuickTime (it loads just fine without this running in the background).
* Billminder (Quicken pay-your-bill reminder service, which you probably don't use).
* Quicken Startup (We look at our checkbook twice a month; no sense pre-loading daily).

Then, by running the Microsoft "MSConfig" utility, you can disable other sneakily-installed programs. To disable startup programs, do the following:

1. Start, Run, "msconfig".
2. Click the Startup Tab.
3. Uncheck various programs (see below).

For example, I've disabled these programs (which you may or may not have), but after viewing this list, this may give you an idea on what you can disable:

* Adobe Acrobat (loads fine without being in the startup).
* Corel File Shell Monitor (watches for changed files and pre-loads images).
* Corel Photo Downloader (automatically connects to digital cameras; I connect manually).
* Nvidia Media Center Library.
* Nvidia Driver Helper Service.
* Nvidia Hotkey Service.
* Java.
* WebCam Managers.
* C-Major Audio (Sigmatel) System Tray icon

Programs you should not disable:
+ Windows Defender and Virus programs.
+ Pointing and Mouse Devices.
+ Display Driver (However, Nvidia installs lots of other stuff).
+ Most sound-card programs.

Click image for larger view; "Back" to return


Most vendor programs (Acrobat, Quicken Checkbook, etc.) load just fine without being in the startup areas. But do use caution. If you are unsure about turning off a program, let it be. Searching the web is a good resource for helping you decide if you should shut down a program or not.

*A more complete article on cleaning up Start Menu items can be found here.


MSConfig SERVICE Tab
Consider making these changes (see illustration above):

Turn off ReadyBoost if you don't use USB Drives to expand physical memory (it is horribly slow).

Turn off the FAX service, if you do not have a Fax Modem.

Turn off Windows backup (if you have another backup solution)

Turn off Tablet PC Input Service (if you are not using Tablet PCs)

Once you apply the changes, MSConfig will bug you each time you boot. This gives you a chance to re-enable a stopped-program. If you shut-down a program that you wished you hadn't, simply re-check the box; save your changes, and reboot to see the results. At some point, say a week or so later, you can dismiss this box by checking the "don't show this message again."


Related Articles:
Cleaning up Startup Programs
Optimizing the Windows Paging/Swap File
Taming Browser Cookies
Disk Cleanup Steps (Prior to backing up)
Stopping Vista's Most Annoying UAC Nag
Vista's 'Unidentified Network Problem -- How to fix

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Microsoft Wireless Mouse 7000

Product review of the Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 7000 - a then-recommended product, but better mice are now available. This is the original product review with new notes added on 2010.12.

Contents:

In Summary:

The $30 Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 7000 is solidly-built and comfortable, and like most Microsoft mice, it feels as if it were made with better materials than other brands. It has an understated design and works perfectly.

Since this article was written, Microsoft has released the Mobile Mouse 4000 and the smaller 3500 -- both are 2.4Ghz and both use the Nano transmitter, which is what you really want. I recently purchased a competitor; see this article: GearHead Wireless Nano Mouse but this mouse died and proved worthless. I am now using a Microsoft Mouse 4000.


Features:
  • Medium-sized Mouse; comfortable
  • Moderately heavy; feels substantial
  • thumb-drive-sized USB transmitter
  • 2.4Ghz
  • Transmitter sees past obstructions
  • 4-way Scroll-wheel
  • Battery-life indicator; 1 AA
  • 1000dpi sensitivity (40-points per mm!)
  • 3x more sensitive than a standard optical mouse


In the photo you can see the USB-transmitter "docks" with the bottom of the mouse when not in use and this also turns off the mouse. The mouse is rated for 4 to 6 months from a single AA battery. My mouse, with mid to light use, is on its 14th month with the original battery.

I have had several people write, complaining about Microsoft's 3000-series wireless mouse, which skips and misbehaves if the transmitter is on the wrong side of the laptop. (The 3000-series mice transmit at 27mhz and were still actively sold by Microsoft at the time.)

This newer 7000-series mouse transmits at 2.4Ghz and does not have these problems. On multiple laptops the mouse has worked flawlessly and it even works on the back side of a desktop computer stashed behind a desk.

The wireless mouse allowed me to perch the laptop on a laptop-stand and I can now shove the machine into the back corner of the desk. Since the mouse works from anywhere in the room, the laptop has effectively turned into a large MP3 music player.


Unexpected Magnifier Buttons

When buying mice, I have always looked for two-button mice, but these are sometimes hard to find. Now, most mice now have 4 to 6 buttons and they are often assigned to features such as a browser-back button and the dreaded "magnifier."

The first two months I owned a Microsoft Mouse 7000, the magnifier kept turning on and I had no idea why -- I didn't even realize the mouse had side-buttons because they were very small and subtly placed in the trim. Once I realized this, I started looking at the mouse drivers -- but the mouse originally shipped with XP drivers and there were no settings for the side button, making this problem devilishly-hard to find.

Drivers

In the Windows Control Panel, confirm you are running the Microsoft "Intellipoint" mouse drivers. If not, and assuming you are using a Microsoft mouse, go to Microsoft.com and download the driver.

Look here to see "Microsoft Intellipoint"


Disabling the Magnifier:

See the Windows Control Panel, Mouse.
Set the "Connected Device" to the proper mouse.
Set both side-buttons to "No action".

Humorously, I have since met several people with this same problem. Everyone laughs when the realize the solution.

Because the extra buttons are not universal or standardized, I find them annoying and inconsistent when used on other people's computers. For these reasons, I disable the non-standard buttons.

Control Panel: Ease of Access Center

There is another possibility for the Magnifier bug, albeit, unlikely. In the Windows 7 Control Panel, "Ease of Access Center", is also a setting that turns on the Magnifier.

1. Open Windows Control Panel, "Ease of Access Center"
2. In "Make the computer easier to see"
Uncheck [ ] Turn on Magnifier

More Recent Mice:

Since this purchase, nearly 2 years ago, Logitech and Microsoft have released new mice with small "Nano" USB transmitters. Although Microsoft's 7000 transmitter is relatively small, about 1.25 inches long, you really want the newer "Nano" transmitters which are small enough to leave permanently plugged into the computer. Since this review was written, I purchased a similar GearHead mouse; see this review and a later, a Microsoft 4000-series mouse.


Conclusion:

A nice product at a reasonable price ($30). I am pleased with the purchase. As of 2010.07, newer mice are available -- the 4000, and 2500 series; each with 2.4ghz and nano transmitters. Consider Logitec or Microsoft 4000 mouse if you are using a laptop.

Related Articles
Keyliner Review - Logitech T630 Ultrathin Mouse

Related Links:
Microsoft Product Drivers
Windows 7 x64 Mouse Drivers
GearHead Wireless Nano Mouse (No longer recommended)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More on the Dell XPS M1530

More comments about the Dell XPS M1530, including a fixed keyboard bow and a warranty-repair on the fingerprint reader. See the original review at Review: XPS-m1530

As I reported last time, my new laptop was having problems with the "biometric authentication", otherwise known as a "Fingerprint Reader." With this, you can swipe your finger and have it automatically log you in, replacing the need for a boot-up password and it also works in some applications and websites.

At first I discounted it as a frilly-device, but truth-be-told, I came to like it and the more it malfunctioned the more I wanted it to work. The fingerprint reader mysteriously quit working on the day I changed the Windows login password and everyone, including me, agreed this was a software problem. Since a lot of money died buying this machine, it became a matter of principle: it was time to call Dell.

Dell Chat with India

I started a "Chat" session in Dell-India. I've used other vendor's chat sites before and if you are a good typist, it is often more efficient and faster than talking to someone on the phone. Plus, because it is transcript, you do not have to repeat everything you typed earlier when the case moves to second and third-level support, as my calls often do.

Working with an Indian call-center can be a strange experience; you have to be careful about slang and other idioms and sometimes they write a perfectly readable sentence that is vaguely off-kilter ("Hi, my name is Valendadk 798335. Do not worry, I will fix your problem"). Naturally, my problem was unsolvable and I am sad to report 4 hours later I was still on the Chat session.

Ultimately, they started asking the question I thought they would ask after the first 20 minutes. "Do you have a current backup" because we want you to restore your software to factory-OEM settings. For once I had the pleasure of saying I had already done that a week earlier and was unwilling to do it again (last month I trashed the entire machine while testing software and had to rebuild the disk). I was moved to second-level support. After a lot more futzing around and a move to third-level, everyone gave up and we agreed to end the call without a resolution.

Then they asked the fateful question: "Is there anything else we can help you with?" Yes there was: "Why does the keyboard have an ever-so-slight bow in the middle?" The hump was probably caused by a wire or something underneath and I was worried the keys would scratch the screen when the lid was closed. The tone of the Chat session immediately changed. Within a few minutes, they were scheduling a repair person who would replace the keyboard and "palm-rest assembly." The palm-rest-assembly contains a new fingerprint reader.

I protested. Why do this when it was clearly a software problem and the hump was not really causing an obvious problem? To my surprise, they more-or-less insisted, and a few days later, a Dell man came with the new parts.

Dell Onsite Service

Dell contracts their service and repair with third-party companies and my experience was good. Watching the repair man dissect the laptop was interesting. He started by putting two sheets of paper on the desk. By hand, he had drawn a series of circles, labeled "keyboard", "Screen Hinge", "backplane", "hard disk" and others. Without exaggerating, he must have removed 30 different screws, pulled a dozen wires, connectors, metal brackets and other do-dads. Each was placed in their respective circle. This is a very smart man who has done this before.


As he worked, he asked, "why am I even doing this when it looks like a software problem?" I shrugged, knowing he had read the transcript. He went on to say that this is one of the more complicated laptops to repair because everything is packed in tight, but you could tell a lot of thought went into the design. There are horizontal cooling fans, air-ducts and other internal features that spoke of a well-designed machine. There was even a slick heat-pipe that snaked its way through the motherboard, passing over 4 different chips.

Keyboard Hump

It took about an hour to repair the computer. The "hump" was gone and the fingerprint reader works perfectly, never failing. Replacing the hardware was an unexpected solution to the problem. While the laptop was being repaired, I did not have the chance to ask about the keyboard hump. But later research revealed the keyboard hump is caused by a mis-installed screw. Photo illustration, thanks to "Tux1530":


Although the Chat session was too long, they were always professional and to their credit, they worked hard on the problem. But I'd bet India was cursing my name when the ticket was closed. In an attempt to repair my world-wide image, I sent a note back to Dell, thanking them for the good service, both on the Chat and on the onsite visit.

A Year Later

Even after a year, the laptop still appears professional and stylish. It still turns heads when people see it; the thinness, the white-outside cover and stainless interior all contribute to an attractive and functional machine.

Originally, when ordered, Dell offered four colors: Black, Red, White and Dark Blue. The Red (which is a charity-fund raiser) comes with numerous other features and is considerably more expensive. White is no longer offered and I guess that makes mine a collector's edition.

Since buying the machine, I have also purchased a traveling power supply (see link below) and I recommend doing this for any machine that moves often.

Compared to 17" Laptops

The XPS 1530 has a 15.4" wide-aspect screen that comes in several resolutions. I chose the 1440 x900 pixel version and it was a good decision. The controversy over the glossy screen is gone and all of my friends and coworkers agree this was the right decision (original review: Dell XPS M1530).

However, since then, newer 17" laptops are on the market and these have huge, beautiful screens. When making a decision between the 15" and 17" laptop, the difference is in portability and weight. If you need a desktop replacement, consider the 17" models. But if you have to lug it through airports, give this careful thought.

Related Articles:
Initial Review: XPS M1530
More on the Dell XPS M1530
XPS M1530 Replacement Battery
Laptop Battery Care and Feeding
Dell's Slim Power Adapter
Review: Maxtor Mini External USB Drive
Review: Microsoft Wireless Mouse 7000

Windows 7 on the XPS M1530 - Initial Look
Windows 7 64-bit XPS M1530 Drivers


Top photo credit: Tom Baker (tbtech.info)

Dell XPS M1530

Product Review: Dell XPS M1530 Laptop. See the end of this article for links on Windows 7.

Now in her second year of High School, my eldest daughter mooches the laptop more often than not. I thought it was time she trashed her own machine. My wife agreed and thus, "Electra" (a Dell 600M) was sent down the food-chain giving me the chance to retire her now 6-year-old AMD desktop. You can probably see where this is angling - I get a new laptop.

I'm not a bottom-feeder but sometimes wish I were. At my $800 price-point I found several computers that fit my needs but I wasn't enamored with them, partly on features but mostly on cosmetics. With some family discussion, Donna said get the machine I wanted and thus was born a new Dell XPS m1530. This is more machine than originally intended and counting a lot of extra goodies, the price came in at $1,200, which verges on obscene. But now that I have owned the machine for a year, I am still in love with it.

Benefits and Features:
  • A head-turning design that is thin and graceful
  • Highly-configurable when ordering
  • Several screen options and resolutions
  • Various memory and CPU speeds available
  • Quiet
  • Cool
  • Nice, nearly full-sized keyboard; no issues on key sizes
  • Touchpad works well
  • Fingerprint reader (a surprisingly nice feature)
  • Webcam
  • Numerous USB ports and external video
Dell computers are highly configurable with numerous options. I could bore you with the details but it is enough to say it has all the bells and whistles, including custom outside-color (a beautiful White, no longer offered), a choice in wireless cards, screens, audio, batteries, etc. CPU speeds and memory are also adjustable. When ordering it is easy to rack-up the dollars.

Screen:

The main reason for buying the computer was the screen. Dell offers three different 15.4" screens: a 1280, 1440, and a 1680 pixels. I chose the middle, which was a balance between the resolution and having fonts and icons that were too small. I also chose the glossy (non-matt) finish. The glossy finish has been the subject of much discussion among my friends and they are split between the "glossy looks really neat" to "it has too many reflections." I have discovered the screen only shows reflections when running backlighting turned off. Other than that, reflections are not a problem and the screen is an all-around great looking piece of real estate.

With both my Desktop and now the Laptop, I've come to like the wider screens. 1440 x 900 pixels, makes the screen much wider than tall. This gives wider spreadsheets and more room for my programming toolboxes plus DVD movies look great. But the wider screen makes the entire laptop two inches slightly wider than older models but it makes up for it by only being an inch thick with the lid closed.

Keyboard

The keyboard is nearly full-sized, with no complaints about the key sizes or feel. Like all new 15" laptops, the Home, Delete, Page-up and End keys are stacked vertically on the right-side and the arrow-keys are full-sized, in a standard "T" formation, but are not separate from the rest of the keys (see photo, below).

To help identify the keys, I've painted the key-fronts with different colors: Delete has a red-stripe, Home has two green dots and End is marked with yellow dot. The colors allow me to see the keys out of the corner of my eye and this has helped immensely. It makes me wonder why keyboard manufacturers don't use different colored keys for the home-keys, alt, control and others like this. On the plus-side, the new keyboard keys are all silver, which makes them easier to see in a darkened room; this is better than the black keys most laptops have.

Non-Optional

The laptop did come with several accessories that were not optional. For example, I now own a webcam and when my daughter saw it she exclaimed "I didn't know you bought a Macintosh!" I unconvincingly set her straight and she still thinks webcams are solely an Apple-thing and Dell must have ripped them off. Another unnecessary feature was a finger-print reader. I was intrigued by the idea but after several weeks of fiddling, I found it unreliable, often taking a half-dozen swipes before it recognized me. Ultimately, this turned out to be a hardware problem that was fixed under warranty (see More on the Dell XPS 1530).

It also came with an interesting remote-control that I've used occasionally and it links in automatically with Windows Media player.




Wireless

Although the laptop comes with a standard wireless and wired network cards, I opted to spend an extra $40 and buy the better wireless. My basic opinion is to avoid Dell-branded wireless cards and buy the name-brand.

This time the more expensive wireless card was a mixed bag. The Intel 3945ABG has more capabilities and better frequencies, but the driver has been flawed and has needed several updates. For example, the wireless connection becomes unreliable when the laptop wakes from sleep. The chat-boards are all abuzz about this and it appears to be a bug with Intel's driver and Microsoft Vista. [Update: Vista SP1 helped resolve some of the problems; additional fixes are needed: See: Windows Vista Unidentified Network. Also, as of February, 2009, Dell no longer offers the 3945, replacing it with an Intel Next-Gen Wireless-N]

Watch Your Ordering

As is typical with Dell, the standard and optional features on this laptop literally vary with the day of the week the machine is ordered. When I ordered, 1G of RAM was standard, with 2G optional. It now ships with 3G standard at the same price. Similarly, standard disk sizes also vary with market changes, changing from 160GB to 250GB within days (now standard at 320GB). I experienced shifts like this as I was ordering. I began my research on a weekend but did not complete the order for several days. During this time the drive capacity was lowered. I waited a few more days and it was back up. I suppose I could have called and negotiated the same drive size. In other words, if you delay and come back, pay attention to these details.

As of February, 2009, the machine is still offered. At the same $1200 price, you now get 3G of RAM, 320GB hard drive and an LED backlight screen. Taking those options out, the machine can be bought at $950. Followup: Dell discontinued this line of computers in August, 2009 and has not replaced it with a comparable model.

I did have the pleasure of taking the new laptop to a local coffee-house where I proudly unfolded the machine and started working on my writing projects. It is an attractive machine with nice lines, a stainless-steel interior and a glossy-white outside shell. A couple sat next to me with a slightly older Macintosh and for a moment they mistook my white computer for another Mac. When they realized their mistake, they slinked off into the corner and snubbed me the rest of the evening.

See also these related articles:
More on the XPS-m1530
XPS M1530 Slim Power Supply
Microsoft Wireless Mouse 7000
Maxtor Mini USB External Drive
Vista Unidentified Network Problems

Windows 7 on the XPS M1530 - Initial Look
Windows 7 64-bit XPS M1530 Drivers


More:
-------------------------------------------
A friend of mine, Bob, wrote to say: The four ultra-cheap Toshiba laptops our family bought 5 months ago have worked out well. Each was about $350 and came with low-end Celeron M 520 CPU's, 512MB Ram and 80G hard disks. On each, the RAM was upgraded to 2G, bringing the system price to $400. So far, these amazingly cheap machines have worked out well. They run Office 2003, surf the web and watch movies, all without problems. In so many words, Bob is saying you are crazy to spend much more than $500 or $600 on a new laptop. He closed his email by saying "It is amazing how well something this cheap can run. I can only imagine how good the higher-end laptops are."

Bob, you are pussy-footing around; we all know exactly what you mean to say here. But I'd like to think that my one PC has more horsepower than the four of yours combined. [And now, after two years, I still think I made the right decision.]

In the mean time, following my friend's advice, I bought my other daughter an inexpensive Compaq Laptop (Model CQ50), new, for $280. In short, the machine has worked well and I'm pleased. There are several problems: It came with Vista Basic; the keyboard flexes considerably on the right-side as you type; and the CD-drive tray hangs on a piece of plastic trim when ever the door closes. In other words, HP/Compaq slammed this machine out the door as fast as they could, cutting every corner possible. But for under $300, I got more than I expected. But for myself, I wouldn't trade the XPS M1530.

All that was left was to name the new laptops: Recent laptops were named Delta and then Electra. That meant the new Dell could have only one possible name: "Fortran." The new Compaq was named "Gerbil." My family groaned.

Additional Followups (2 years after the initial purchase):
Nearly two years after purchasing this laptop, I can report back that I am still in love with the style and grace this machine has. It has been a great computer. In August, 2009, Dell discontinued the model and they have not replaced it with a similar computer. Windows 7 has installed properly, but drivers were a nuisance; see links below.

Related articles:
More on the XPS M1530
Dell Slim Power Supplies
Laptop Battery Care and Feeding
XPS M1530 Battery Replacement
Microsoft Wireless Mouse 7000

Windows 7 on the XPS M1530 - Initial Look
Windows 7 64-bit XPS M1530 Drivers
Link: Disassembling the Dell XPS M1530