the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Tag Archives: inspiron

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

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