the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Tag Archives: Dell

new dell pc

Recently I searched this website for information about my Windows desktop only to find BYOPC 2016 – is that computer really five years old? Indeed it is, so with little hesitation I set out to find a replacement. Why? Foremost, I believe in a four (4) year replacement cycle for desktop computers. Remember, there’s no badge of honor earned from your janky old computer. Performance, security, safety, peace of mind and your itjerk’s respect all factor in. Second, the computer is not Windows 11 compatible, which as an IT professional will be important for me. Finally, it was an inexpensive build, on the noisy side (cheap case) and low on storage (128GB boot drive). Yet as cheap as it was, it served me well, but now it’s time to move on!

As my primary desktop, it was quite easy for me to arrive at the decision to buy a new computer. Building computers is fun, but good, workable options are just inexpensive. Don’t forget, PC makers spend a lot of time designing well-engineered systems; that’s part of what we pay for. I don’t game, so I have little need for power or anything but a standard configuration, including one that is Windows 11 ready. Now, I haven’t had a Dell computer since the old Dimension C521 in 2007, but my recent experiences with my daughter’s Latitude 3190s (despite initial problems) brought me around again.

A quick trip to Dell.com yielded a Vostro 3681 in a small form-factor case, with 8GB RAM, 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive and an Intel 10th Gen i5-10400 processor(6-Core, 12M Cache, 2.9GHz to 4.3GHz) processor, all for $499 (after a $50 coupon code). The HDMI port fits well with my KVM, and it has an extra bay for a spare hard drive. Pandemic-driven built-in bluetooth and wifi card in most desktops (here via a second M2 slot) is handy as well. Plus it’s kinda cute, with that red front bezel.

It arrived quickly (Sat->Wed), and within no time I had an extra 8GB RAM installed, as well as the 128GB drive from my old computer. I signed in with my Microsoft account, and OneDrive did a pretty good job of getting everything in place. I did have to ensure that my Documents and Pictures folders did not connect to OneDrive, as I don’t want them to sync nor be in the Cloud. The perfunctory Windows (shipped with 20H2) and Microsoft Store updates were next, followed by Dell’s System Update. I had previously made a list of the applications I needed, so it was off to the races to download and install them. One thing I realized is that my old Quicken 2007 software is a real relic; getting that now requires an annual subscription, so I’m glad I still had the CD! Once I copied the data from my old drive over, I took it out and plugged in a 1TB “scratch disk” from the old computer that I have a bunch of misc files on. It’s an old SATA drive, so I may replace it with a SSD to keep the “silence” the Vostro 3681 provides.

Update: That 1TB “scratch disk” was actually a 500GB drive, and I did replace it with a 512GB SSD.

Nota Bene: Before you wipe clean your old computer, be sure to give the new computer a run through of your most important tasks. For instance, opening my book InDesign and printing a PDF copy yielded a couple missing fonts (which I had) and a PDF preset (which luckily I found). In other words, don’t be in a hurry to throw out the old!

All in all, it’s a silent, snappy little computer that more than provides for what I need in a desktop environment. Good on you Dell.

One the web:
Dell Vostro

oh dell you sucked today

I ordered a Dell Latitude 3190 2-in-1 Laptop for my daughter late last week. It was a certified refurbished computer, and with discount was cheap, $240. Now I know, ordering someone else’s problem computer can be a bad idea, but it still has a one (1) year warranty and is …certified!

The short story is that arrived today, DOA. It then took me 45 minutes to get through the service prompts, mostly because the Service Tag had not yet been entered into Dell’s system. After a further wait, Dell offered a motherboard replacement part in 1-2 business day, while a complete return/replacement would take 7-10 days after approval, plus shipping.

Really?  That just sucks Dell.

Update: A new computer arrived two days later, along with a return Fedex label. All was well with that unit, updates galore, but my daughter is quite happy with it…

Update, Update: I decided to purchase a second one, for myself. Placed the order, unit arrived, and it did not work: Windows error SYSTEM SERVICE EXCEPTION stop code, so after another hour on the phone with Dell, I returned it for a refund.

dell such a deal! (two and one-half years later)


Not that I need it, but I can't stop thinking about getting a new computer ever since Windows 7 was released. The Dell Inspiron 537s Slim Desktop is a budget computer, but with an Intel E5300 Core 2 Duo processor (2MB L2, 2.6GHz, 800FSB) and a base price of $289, isn't it just too cheap to pass up?

As with any purchase, the key is not to turn a good deal into something more expensive. I could choose a faster processor: Dell offers the E7500 for $70 more. Would I really notice the faster CPU? I open web browsers, balance my checkbook, fiddle with some web stuff, and… that's about it. Home users generally have only two CPU-demanding needs: gaming and video. Since I neither game nor do any serious video/dvd authoring, why would I need to spend more money on a faster CPU? To future proof and that's about it. At any rate, a system will only run as fast as the slowest part: in this case, it's the 800MHz RAM that Dell puts in the computer. As for memory, if you have a 32bit operating system, get 4GB and no more – that's all it can physically address. But now that 64bit is standard, there's more temptation to buy more memory. By all means, buy the most computer for your money, but think before spending unnecessarily.

I found two deals for the Inspiron 537s, the first from Techbargains.com. It proposes a quad-core upgrade, but again, let's be reasonable: you must have software written specifically for a quad-core processor in order to gain any benefit from it. Sure, the OS may be multithreaded, but it's the apps that matter. Buy only if you have an application that can use those extra cores.

The other deal was from a Dell catalog I got in the mail (see the E-value Code below). It starts with the E5300 processor and adds Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit, a two year warranty and 3GB of RAM, all for $349. Pretty sweet deal, Dell. Now as I configure it, I don't want to go crazy and spend spend spend: I'll only add $19 for a media reader, as the $60 ATI 4350 video card can be bought for less elsewhere (I always recommend off-board graphics and will use the card in my current machine). Upgrading RAM to 4GB is fortunately just as cheap as buying the same dual channel kit elsewhere, so good on Dell for not ripping us off; it's $80 from 2GB and $35 from 3GB.

Two and one-half years later, do I really need a new PC? Well, this Inspiron 537s is just $404$394, has Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit, 4GB RAM, and a two year warranty. Maybe you'll see that old C521 up on eBay early next year…

On the web:
Techbargains.com
Dell.com/deals Enter E-value Code: 6F990-DDPCRN1

hackintosh

Remember that Dell Mini 9 that I bought earlier in the year. Check it out now:


How easy was this? Very. First, I purchased a Super Talent 16GB SSD drive to replace the paltry 4GB STEC that came with the Mini (you'll need about 8-10GB for the install). SuperBiiz/eWiz had it for $49.95 delivered, with coupon. It's a fast drive (this is the FEM16GFDL), much like the Runcore drives, but less inexpensive and in stock (ordered it Sunday, had it Friday).

Then, on a tip from the great resource of MyDellMini, I found a guide at Mechdrew that details the installation process. The step-by-step instructions show how to create a bootable flash drive from your Snow Leopard DVD ($29) on a Mac computer, and then install the OS on the netbook. The magic is two-fold: First, the Dell Mini 9 has extremely compatible hardware to OS X. Secondly, NetBookMaker, a GoogleCode project, adds the appropriate extensions to make it all work.

And work it does! Trackpad, wireless, camera, sound, battery meter, software updates (10.6.1), even sleep mode. But even more impressive is how responsive Snow Leopard is on the Mini – maybe this is the SSD too? So, however much I think Apple sucks, it's testament to the fact that OS X is Unix, and Unix is good.

On the web:
MechDrew guide
Netbook-Installer software

dell mini, received

Received my Dell Mini 9 today, and immediately installed Xubuntu 8.10 from a live USB drive. It's an easy enough process to create: insert a 2GB USB drive into the computer and either download the appropriate iso or insert a CD, then run usb-creator and a few minutes later you'll have a live distro ready to use on the optical drive-less Dell Mini. Xubuntu is based on Ubuntu, but just replaces most of the Gnome desktop environment with the resource-frugal XFCE. After installation, I had to fix the audio by editing alsa-base; this is a well-known issue with Ubuntu 8.10; I found the details at UbuntuMini.com. Just be sure to open the mixer and turn up the volume on the speakers after rebooting.

After rebooting, I accepted the proprietary driver for the wireless card, a Broadcom STA, entered my WPA/WPA-2 password, and connected to my wireless network. Like a good boy, I then updated Xubuntu, with all 118 packages that were available. I also installed the restricted media codecs, which includes java, mp3 playback and flash animation support:

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-restricted-extras

Only a few more things to install, like the Opera browser and Skype from their respective .deb packages, and sshfs from the command line, in a few easy steps:

sudo apt-get install sshfs
sudo modprobe fuse
mkdir /your/mount/point/

Then open terminal and connect:

sshfs user@yourserver.com:/remote/mount /local/mount/point

If you haven't used sshfs (or scp for that matter) you're missing out on one of the easiest ways to connect remote computers. Perfect for the Dell Mini.

Here's my quick two cents: I've taken a few old Pentium III and IV-era laptops, installed Xubuntu and tried to make a go of them as "netbooks". The Dell Mini 9 is not an old computer; it's a fast, modern dual-core machine, even with the stock 512MB of RAM. (In fact, I'm wondering why I even bothered to order the extra 2GB RAM!) The screen is brilliant, the wireless integrated, and, even at 4GB, the SSD drive packs enough for a distribution like Xubuntu and some user files. There's an SD reader for convenient extra storage, and the integrated camera works out of the box with Skype. Yes, it's got a 9" screen, and yes using the keyboard is awkward, especially if one is used to desktops (like me). But I only paid $200. One dart though, the touch pad and keyboard are a bit too sensitive and jumpy, mandating one-finger typing. Yet, all in all, I'm very impressed. Thanks Dell!

On the web:
Official Dell Mini Site
UbuntuMini.com
MyDellMini

dell mini, redux

Even in these economic times, it's hard to pass up a good deal when you see one: yesterday Dell had a one day sale on their Mini 9 netbook, offering $50 off the "n" model. Sure, the Mini 10 is on the horizon, but at $199 I just couldn't pass. (Thanks to Engadget and Slickdeals for the tip-offs.)

With an extra educational discount of 7% (and free shipping), and a further 4% using a Dell credit card, I landed the computer for an all time low price of $204.91. While I couldn't see spending $30 to change the color from black (what's up with that Dell?), I did add the Integrated 0.3M Pixel Webcam for kicks. I'll update the RAM to 2GB elsewhere. Here's the specs:

  • Intel Atom N270 (1.6/533/512)
  • Ubuntu Linux 8.04.1
  • 512MB DDR2 (533)
  • 8.9" LED (1024×600)
  • 4GB SSD
  • Wireless 802.11g Mini Card
  • 1 year warranty

On the web:
Dell Mini 9 netbook

dell preloaded with ubuntu

No doubt you've heard about Dell preloading Ubuntu onto a few of their models, as a result of their customer's desire (voiced on Dell's Idea Storm) for a non-Microsoft option.

At any rate, I had a license for Vista I purchased that I was using on an old pentium 4. What a beast; even with a 1GB of Ram, it ran like a turtle. So it made a lot of sense to purchase the Dell with Ubuntu – no extra license of Windows to pay for, and I get to support the cause – I wonder how many people that voiced their opinion will actually come through with a purchase? I chose the Dimension E520n; mainly because it was inexpensive, but also because it's plenty good enough for most anyone's desktop requirements (Intel C2D1.8Ghz,1GB,250GB,DVD+-R,Geforce7300LE). Total cost: $465.

In order to dual-boot to both Ubuntu and Vista, I had to first resize the 250GB hard drive in order to create an empty partition to load Vista onto. This was accomplished easily enough in a few steps:
1) Download Gparted live disk, boot off of it, and resize the largest partition in half, creating 100GB unallocated space.
2) Turn off the boot flag on the partition that had it active; Vista won't install if it exists. Be sure to click apply, and wait for Gparted to resize the drive.
3) Boot off the Vista DVD to install it. It's straight-forward, be sure to format the unallocated space before you install to it. When complete, you'll have a computer that will only boot into Vista.
4) Reinstall grub in order to boot back into Linux. I booted off my Ubuntu live CD, ran terminal, and issued the following commands:

$ sudo grub
# find /grub/stage1
this returned the drive (hd0,2) which is used below:
# root (hd0,2)
# setup (hd0)

5) Now the computer only boots into Linux, but by adding the following (as root) to /boot/grub/menu.lst, dual-booting is now possible: Be sure to add this to the VERY BOTTOM of the file!

title		Windows Vista
root (hd0,0)
makeactive
chainloader +1

You may have to experiment with the drive numbering, but this can be done by editing grub when you reboot.

There you have it, an extremely easy way to dual-boot Ubuntu and Vista, without reinstalling anything!

Dell's Open Source page:
http://www.dell.com/open
Gnome Parted LivCD:
http://gparted.sourceforge.net/livecd.php
Ubuntu:
http://www.ubuntu.com/