Thursday, January 10, 2008

Going laptop [update]

It's been about two months since I officially cut over to a Dell M1330 laptop running Vista as my primary machine. Things are generally going quite well, both with the laptop itself, and with Vista. Our IT manager likes to come in and hate on Vista every few days, and I'll admit that I have a couple of gripes (hoping for SP1 to solve them), but it's not been nearly as painful as I expected.

Size/portability: I really like this laptop's form factor, though I wish it had a docking station available. When I'm plugged in at the office, I have every port on the machine occupied (power, USB1, VGA, ethernet, HDMI, 1394, audio, USB2). That's a lot of crap to plug/unplug when I want to walk away with the box. The 13.3" screen is workable when I'm going mobile, though I'm glad I don't have to live with it every day. I was very grateful for the small size during a recent datacenter move, where five of us were jammed in an 8x8 cage (along with 25 roasting-hot servers). The portability factor is greatly increased by my access with a Sprint EV-DO mobile broadband card. Really nice to be able to connect up anywhere without relying on slow old GPRS or finding an open wireless AP.

Stability/reliability: It's generally pretty solid. I'm using both the HDMI and VGA outs for the dual-monitor experience when working at the office, and the NVIDIA dual-display software is slightly maddening at times with several flashes when I lock/unlock the machine. I'm also using a KVM switch to control my old (much less frequently used) WinXP desktop at the office, and occasionally, the keyboard connection gets lost. I'm inclined to blame the KVM, though, as I had to try a couple before I found one that worked at all reliably.

Battery life: I originally requested both a 6 and 9-cell battery, but I got two 9's instead. Battery life on the 9 is insane- 6+ hours with wireless shut off, 4+ with it on. I later obtained a 6 cell (mainly to lower the profile, since the 6 cell is flush with the bottom, where the 9 hangs down about an inch). Unfortunately, battery life with the 6 seems to be about 2.5 hours with my limited sample size.

Performance: Can't complain here. 4G of memory (well, 3.5 since I still haven't taken the 64-bit plunge) makes all the difference in the world. As is my usual m.o., I can have several large solutions open in VS2008, ten or so browser windows up, SQL Server's caches fully loaded, and Outlook cranking away, and it doesn't even flinch. Build times are quite acceptable, though since I'm not a major space hog, I'll probably be exploring a solid state disk once 128G versions are available for less than a mint. I have noticed the busted file copy behavior in Vista- I really hope SP1 makes that better. When combined with our less-than-stellar network connection at the office, remote file copies to the datacenter are painful or just plain broken, depending on what else is happening.

Build quality: Thankfully, I haven't experienced many of the problems I've seen others on the intarwebs complain of. I did have to glue a screw into one of the trapdoors on the bottom- an overzealous mobile broadband card installer stripped the screwhole. A couple of trim pieces don't seem terribly well connected, and I recently took some sandpaper to the HD cover to get it to fit flush, but I haven't had any real problems beyond these nits. I do have the dreaded CPU whine (Intel's problem, not Dell's), but RMClock is able to squelch it when I'm running on AC by disabling popup/popdown mode. The documented "Disable C4" mode that's supposed to do it compromises stability- the machine locks up every few hours with that.

Vista app interop issues: The latest OpenVPN build fixed my one major problem with route propagation. I did find some interesting behaviors when using the loopback adapter- specifically that the IPv6 address is the default for "localhost" in Vista. Thus, if you talk to yourself via http://localhost, and the server code asks for the client's IP, it will come back as ::1 instead of I had some parsing code that barfed all over that one.

Anyway, thus far, this switchover's not nearly the tragedy I'd steeled myself for. It's really nice to work from home without the delay imposed by remote desktop and our crummy internet connection at the office.

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