Remotely connecting to your PC

October 15, 2009

remote_desktopOften I need to work from my kitchen table because I have to keep an eye on my young son or new Labrador puppy from wrecking the house. As such, I use my trusty Dell Latitude D610 laptop to remotely connect to my office desktop PC (located upstairs in my home). What that means, is that I’m controlling my desktop PC from my laptop running applications, etc. just as if I was sitting in front of my PC.

How I do this, is by using an application called Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) which is provided by Microsoft with their Windows XP Professional and Vista Professional OS. A small server is running on my desktop PC, and I can make a connection to it from any PC or laptop on my home network using RDC. Since my home network connection is pretty fast, I see very little response delay using this setup.

Unfortunately, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows 7 Home Premium both don’t have the Remote Desktop Server software to use the RDC feature. You will need to get the Professional version of either OS package to have the Remote Desktop Server software. As such, I decided to look into other similar alternatives, as I use the RDC feature quite heavily for my own personal use. Read the rest of this entry »


Dell Netbook 6-cell battery is ridiculously big!

October 12, 2009

When I put in my order for the Dell Inspiron 11z Netbook, I contemplated getting the 6-cell battery since it advertises 8+ hours of life over the 3 hours for the standard 3-cell battery. However, I decided to just go with the 3-cell since 3 hours is probably enough for me to go without charging it. I’m glad I didn’t get the 6-cell battery, because it is humongously large and hideous!

wart_battery

It sticks out the bottom like a big wart on this sleek and elegant system. What’s the deal with that? If I had a choice, I would rather it protruded straight out the back than down like it is currently designed. Apparently this is the same battery used in the Dell Mini 10 also.

With a price tag of $150 US, I’ll go looking for a power outlet every 3 hours than pay that amount for the giant wart battery!

An extra 3-cell battery is going for $130 on the Dell web site, but since it is the same battery as used on the Dell Mini 10 you can get one for $43 on eBay.com. Carrying two small batteries has got to be a better deal  than one giant battery that makes the 11z or Mini 10 look so junky!


I love Costco’s return policy

October 12, 2009

costcoAlthough I rarely return anything to Costco, I do appreciate their liberal no-hassle return policy. The last time I returned something was earlier this year when I returned a Dell Mini 9 Netbook (which I ordered online) because of the non-standard keyboard configuration. Costco cheerfully refunded my purchase, tax and shipping costs included.

So I stopped by my local Costco store this morning to return the Acer 751h netbook that I bought last Friday, and again it was a simple process. The clerk began the refund procedure without asking me a word about the netbook. It wasn’t until he was about half way through the process when he casually asked why I was returning it (in more of an inquisitive manner). I just told him it didn’t meet all my needs and he handed me my refund receipt and said have a good day. It’s because of this I really like buying electronic merchandise from Costco, just in case I get a defective unit or if I decide I don’t like it.

As a side comment, the Costco clerk told me that they have been getting a lot of returns with this Acer netbook. When I asked why, he stated that customers were complaining of “slowness”. Whether that’s really true or not, we won’t know. “Slowness” is such a subjective term, since it is relative to something else (a speedy desktop PC or MacBook Pro perhaps?). At least the returns weren’t because of some more serious problem (e.g., crashes, not booting up, freezing, etc).

So although I returned the Acer Netbook, I still recommend you check one out if you’re looking for a good portable machine. And definitely buy it from Costco if you can! ­čÖé


Buyer’s remorse is setting in…

October 12, 2009

buyer_remorseI often think very carefully when spending money, considering whether I really need something or not (I probably do too much obsessing over this at times!). After ordering the Dell Inspiron 11z, I began to have buyer’s remorse. Did I really need to spend $500 on a small netbook-sized computer that I would use occasionally while on travel? Do I really need it?

The Acer 751h Netbook that I bought from Costco for $280 was a good little machine, and could certainly meet my “travel companion” needs. So why did I order the Dell 11z in place of the Acer netbook? It seems the lure of adding in a WiFi-N wireless card, Bluetooth wireless card, and getting Windows 7 preinstalled for free was very appealing. But did I really need to have those options?

Later last night I decided I would try to contact Dell and cancel my order. I’d keep the Acer netbook and use it for the next 60-90 days and will make my decision then if I would keep it or return it and order the Dell 11z. That seemed like a reasonable plan (which I should have thought of before I put in the Dell 11z order!). Using the Dell Online Chat, I contacted a Dell rep at around 8 pm PST. This person was very nice, but stated that she could not cancel my online order and I would need to call their sales dept. Of course, their dept was closed on Sundays so I would have to call Monday morning. She doubted that I could cancel the order, since it was in “production” status, but said I could try nevertheless. Read the rest of this entry »


Dell’s Instant Upgrade to Windows 7 Promotion

October 11, 2009

Dell has a current promotion where on select models that are scheduled for delivery on or after Oct 22nd (the release date for Windows 7), they will preload the Windows 7 OS for you in place of Vista Home Premium so you don’t need to do it yourself. That’s pretty nice, since the customer won’t need to bother with the upgrade and all the device drivers should be in place and working (in theory).

dell_win7_upgrade

For example, I ordered a Dell Inspirion 11z this afternoon with the Vista Home Premium 32-bit OS, and since it isn’t scheduled to arrive until Oct 27th Dell will preload it with Windows 7 instead of Vista so I don’t have to do the upgrade after the fact. Sweet! You can’t beat that for service. I hope they also provide me with the Windows 7 restore CDs as that can come in handy in case of hard disk failure.

Now, this applies for select computer models so check before ordering if you want to take advantage of this promotion. Of course, Dell is doing this because they don’t want customers to hold off buying their desktop and laptop machines until after Oct 22nd to get Windows 7 on their machines, and it makes perfect sense.

So what happens if they finish my Dell 11z early and it ships sooner than estimated? Will it have Win7 loaded on it, or not? I’ll let you know if that happens…


Update (29 Oct 09) – Apparently, this was a false promotion on Dell’s behalf, as my Dell 11z arrived on Oct 28th with the Vista OS installed, not Windows 7 as they had advertised on their web site. I called Dell Support about this, and all they kept telling me was that I needed to register to receive the free Windows 7 Upgrade DVD in the mail. Another Dell support person told me I was mistaken when I read their web site ad, but clearly I didn’t as you can see from the image snippet I have displayed at the top of this posting. I should have saved a complete screenshot of their web site showing this so I could fully prove it. Whatever the case, this has put a black mark against Dell in my book as false advertising, and I hope others also voice their opinions against Dell for be deceptive.

 


Upgrading your Laptop’s WiFi Card

October 11, 2009

wifiI recently purchased a Belkin Wireless Router that uses the “n”-draft protocol for data transmission. This newer protocol (still in draft) offers greater speed and range than the older “g” protocol. Of course, you need a wireless adapter on your connecting machine or laptop that can also talk the “n” protocol, otherwise the router will default back down to the “g” protocol when communicating with your machine.

Most older laptops and Netbook computers use the “g” WiFi protocol, while some of the newer ones use “n” (and often it’s an upgrade to get the hardware for this protocol). I recently order a new Dell laptop and I paid the extra $25 for a “n” wireless enabled card so I can use it most efficiently with my home Router system. Well worth the $25 to ensure my new laptop’s WiFi┬á doesn’t become obsolete so soon.

So, what if you have a laptop that doesn’t have a WiFi card, or if your laptop has a WiFi card with the older “b” or “g” protocol? Luckily, these WiFi cards are somewhat standard and are easy to replace/upgrade for most laptops. If you can upgrade the memory in your laptop, you can certainly upgrade the WiFi card as well.

For example, I have an older Dell Latitude D610 laptop that uses a Mini-PCI WiFi-g card. It works ok, but I always seemed to have a rather low connection speed and signal strength when connecting to my home router (although conditions have improved since I upgraded the Router from “g” to “n” recently). So what are my options? As it turns out, there is a YouTube video that explains exactly how to change out the WiFi card in my Dell D610 laptop (imagine that?). You simply open the small cover on the bottom of the laptop, disconnect two small wires, pop out the old card, and do the reverse to install the new WiFi card. Very simple. Read the rest of this entry »


Netbook Shopping

October 11, 2009

While I’m on the subject of Netbooks, here’s a few that I’ve been considering:

Acer 751h Netbook $310 (from Costco.com)

  • Intel Atom Z520 (1.33 GHz, 512KB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB)
  • 11.6″ WXGA LED-backlit 1366 x 768 resolution
  • 2 GB Memory
  • 250 GB Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
  • WiFi b/g
  • Webcam
  • Windows Vista Home Basic
  • 3-cell battery
  • 2.8 lbs
  • 11.2″ x 7.8″ x 1.0″

acer_4

I actually bought this Acer model from my local Costco store and gave a detailed review in some previous postings. My model only had 1 GB of memory, a 160 GB hard drive, and had the Windows XP Home OS installed. The price I paid was $290, while this slightly upgraded model is going for $310 if you order online. (Note: I noticed yesterday Costco had a blue and red colored model available, but as of today they only show the blue model. They may be closing out this particular model, so you can get it now or wait to see what Costco might be offering in the next few weeks). Read the rest of this entry »


Laptop vs. Netbook… which to buy?

October 10, 2009

As you’ve read in my last few postings, I’ve been evaluating an Acer 751h Netbook computer. Bear in mind that I’m pretty picky about what I like and dislike, and I do┬áhave to say I like this Netbook. It’s very light and compact, has a great hi-res screen, and the keyboard feels like a full-sized version to me. And although it uses a slower Intel Atom Z520 processor, the system responses quite adequately. The only slowness I’ve noticed is when I use the Firefox web browser and I try to open 5 or more web pages simultaneously in separate tabs. I see the activity icon on each tab spinning as it furiously loads the pages. On my Intel Quad desktop PC, I don’t see such a delay as the page load very very quickly.

The issue I had with the Remote Desktop Connection diconnecting and/or being unresponsive wasn’t the fault of the Acer Netbook, but rather my new Belkin Router’s settings. Once I made a small change, the Netbook and my Dell D610 laptop connected with no issues to my Desktop PC.

So in my last blog posting I mentioned that I would probably return this Acer Netbook since the vertical resolution of 768 pixels was still a bit too small for effective software coding (since I can’t see very many lines of code on the screen). I then put the Acer Netbook aside and started browsing web sites like Dell, Best Buy, etc. for possibly getting a new “laptop” instead of a Netbook. I still wanted something that was reasonably portable (i.e., not too heavy or too large) but with a higher screen resolution. My older Dell D610 Latitude has a 1400 x 1050 resolution, which I really like, but the battery is shot in that laptop and the size is just a bit too large to want to carry around. Read the rest of this entry »


Part IV: The testing begins…

October 10, 2009

acer3From my previous postings, you will see that my latest adventure is to test out a new Acer 751h Netbook that I purchased from Costco. It seems to be a good little machine, so now I’m about to put it through some of my standard operations.

Normally, I use a laptop on my kitchen table that is connected to my Desktop PC via Remote Desktop Connection. This is done wirelessly through my home router. I’ve been able to duplicate that scenario this morning, and have been using the Acer Netbook in “production mode”, where I’m doing some C++ programming on my Desktop PC via a remote connection. At the same time, I’ve been running on battery power and monitoring the drop in battery level over time.

During testing, the Acer appears to be an adequate machine for source code programming. The keyboard typing was just fine and the speed of the Netbook was more than adequate. The only thing that was bothersome was the limited amount of source code that I could view on the screen. I was using Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 as the IDE, and a lot of the vertical space is taken up by the main menubar and toobar/ribbon at the top. I guess I’m spoiled by the 21″ wide-screen monitor I have on my Desktop PC.

I also noticed that my remote connection would stall if I switched away from the remote desktop to my Acer Netbook. It would take 10-30 seconds before the remote connection would become responsive again. Now, I don’t know if this is a problem with the Acer’s WiFi module, OS setup, or with my Desktop PC’s settings. I’ll have to investigate further, but having this stalling is a bit troublesome. (I discovered that the issue was related to my new Belkin router, not the Acer Netbook. I disabled the “ICMP Pinging” option and remote desktop connection worked fine). Read the rest of this entry »


Part III: Setting up the Acer Netbook for my Evaluation

October 10, 2009

checkliistIn my previous posting I gave you my initial feedback regarding the Acer 751h Netbook that I recently purchased from Costco. So far, I like what I see with regards to the hardware. I also understand that this is a low-powered Netbook machine, designed for portability and long battery life, so I’m not expecting a super fast laptop with the highest performance. Heck, this Netbook only cost me $290 US so I can only expect so much.

So here’s what I did to get the Acer Netbook setup for my evaluation:

1) Remove all the junkware from the system

I hate the McAfee antivirus software because it’s such a resource hog and slows down computer systems significantly. So the first thing I did was remove it from the system. I also removed the Carbonite Lite, Microsoft Office Student, Google Desktop, eSobi, and most of the installed games.

2) Ran the CCleaner freeware software

To remove all the dead entries in the system’s registry file, I ran the program called CCleaner (which I routinely use on my main desktop PC). It quickly identified and deleted all the dead entries pertaining to the software I just removed in step (1).

3) Setup WiFi connection to my home router

Since I need to be connected to the Internet to proceed, I configured the Acer Netbook to connect to my Belkin wireless router. I just used the standard procedure for making the WiFi connection. Read the rest of this entry »