Much earlier this year, the Minister of War and Finance’s (hi Tanya!) old Dell augured in and bought the farm. First, Tanya spilt Milo (granulated malt) grains on the keyboard and this got under the key caps, causing the keys to stick. I tried cleaning it a couple of times, but many keys were never very good after even a solid cleaning. Then I spilt soup into the keyboard. In trying to take it apart and wash off the soup, I managed to break the little ribbon connector holder to the trackpad, and the keyboard didn’t appreciate being taken apart again, and I couldn’t get about six or so keys back on. Despite this, the laptop “worked” with an external keyboard for months. Finally, Mackenzie stomped all over our bed and the laptop, breaking the power cord connector near the screen. This last one did it – couldn’t get any more charge into it.
So I gave Tanya my maxxed out late 2006 17″ MacBook Pro. We were free of the evil, monstrous Windows beast and I was happy even though I was down a computer. Unfortunately, Tanya doesn’t like MacOS, not even after six months. Color me shocked, but there you go.
So for Christmas, I bought her a new Asus K52DR-EX143V from MSY. This unit has a 4 core AMD processor, 4 GB of RAM, 1 GB of dedicated VRAM and ATI HD5470M display chipset, 500 GB of disk, and BluRay / DVD-RW combo drive. Sounds sweet.
Opening the packaging wasn’t too bad (there are videos all over YouTube if you’re an unboxing freak), but then the stark differences between Mac and PC packaging starts to set in.
- There’s quite a lot of papers and odds and ends in the box. With the Mac, you get a simple, small Getting Started booklet and a sticker.
- The Asus power brick is fairly large, but the cables are pretty short – about 1 m in total length. The end is a traditional plug that is of similar design that caused the demise of the previous Dell. You may need to take an extension cord with you on site if you travel with this model as the cable is pretty short. The Mac has a small power brick with integrated cable organizer, with long cords (about 2 m total) with a MagSafe connector. There’s no doubt in my mind that Tanya’s Dell would have survived if it had a Magsafe connector.
- However, there’s no recovery DVD (urgh) or installation media. With the Mac, you get a single MacOS X DVD that allows you unlimited re-installs.
- Stickers randomly cover about 45% of the Asus palm rest. Luckily, they came off fairly easily in about five minutes and a sharp knife. There was some residual stickiness from one of the stickers which I’m still yet to get completely off. There’s no stickers on a Mac.
- There are a lot of shipping protective stickers on the Asus, such as around the bezel, on the web cam,and so on. Some of it is actually quite hard to remove such as on the hinges. There’s only a small piece of soft foam between the keyboard and the keyboard in the last two Macs I had.
Turning on the Asus requires installing the battery, and plugging the power cord in. Immediately, differences between Windows 7 OEM and MacOS X start to stand out. For a start, the Asus is by any standards a fast computer, but it took over a minute to get to the first registration screen asking for personalization and registration details. I was working and online in two minutes out of the box on my Macbook Pro 13″ in 2009.
Windows 7 starts in about a minute, but there’s so much circusware and trial software installed that I spent the next fourteen hours:
- Decoding and removing all unnecessary crap off the machine. This is still not complete, but I’m much happier now. The Asus now boots in about 45 seconds
- Removing the stupid “data” disk partition – for some reason there’s a 116 GB system partition (far too big), and a 329 GB data partition (far too small). Removing the data partition solves both issues. To fix it on yours, assuming there’s no data on the data partition, start the disk partitioner (diskpart.exe):
select disk 0
select partition 3 < -- see note below
select partition 2
* the data partition was 3 on my system - YMMV and do not delete your system partition!
- Upgrading Adobe Reader 9 to X
- Upgrading Flash to be as secure as it'll ever be (which is not very)
- Installing the 78 patches for Windows, requiring just over a gigabyte of bandwidth, several attempts and reboots
- Installing decent firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware - not needed on a Mac (yet)
- Installing Microsoft Office 2010. There's a trial copy of Office 2010 Starter edition already installed, but that also has all the installation bits for all editions. So I bought the Product Key Card of Home and Business edition and chose "Activate key" to turn Starter edition into Home and Business. However, it failed to install the first time, so I tried again after a reboot and that worked. On the Mac, you just drag MS Office from the install DVD to your Applications folder. The Mac install is far faster and just works. Of course, once installed, there were Office 2010 patches to install.
- There's no installation media or recovery DVDs, so I broke out my DVD-R supply, and after 2.5 hours (seriously!) it burnt five recovery DVDs with hilarious Chinglish prompts such as "Predictably, burning will take five DVDs to create a recovery DVD". You can't make that crap up. Of course, using the recovery DVDs will blow away all Tanya's data and return the circus ware, but ... it had to be done. The Mac has a full OS DVD and thus doesn't lose any user data, and in many cases keeps your applications and settings working too.
- I'm currently installing iTunes and migrating data across. This would take time no matter if it's a PC or a Mac, so I'm going to give it a free pass at the moment.
- I'm still trying to set up Outlook 2010 and her Windows Mobile 6.1 phone. This should be a no brainer, but ... Windows 7 doesn't seem to like Windows Mobile 6.1.
- I still don't have a Time Machine work-a-like that can back up Tanya's data. This is a serious issue as hers is the most likely computer to die. Suggestions welcome.
Using the laptop
As it's only the second day of having the laptop, I've not done any real work on it yet. PCs are unproductive like that. I'm still yet to find out if it can run videos in iTunes full screen on our TVs, which the Macs do in their sleep. Tanya's previous Dell used to have serious lag time between video and sound and the fans were on full time, requiring extra volume. I'm hoping that this computer is at least as able as a four year old Macbook Pro.
Problems so far
I don't know if this is just me, or known problems with Asus laptops, but I've found that connecting the VGA adapter to a 24" screen at 1920x1080 @ 32 bpp produces a wobbily and shimmering display that flickers a great deal. I would get eye strain after a few minutes if I had to use this as my primary display. So I tried a HDMI cable, but that produced a pink / purple display centered in the middle of the screen. I don't know if this means I have a broken laptop yet, or if this is how crappy all PCs are. I hope it's not broken, as I've invested so much time in getting to where I am at the moment.
In short, the machine is very fast at some things. Except for booting and running Office seems a bit tardy. The external display connectors don't seem to be working properly. At least, it found my Bluetooth mouse and used it without any additional issues.
As a Mac user, I cannot understand why PC manufacturers don't take that little bit of extra time and make sure their product works out of the box with minimal fussing. The circusware was very annoying. That should go, as should the sticker vandalism. The patching was annoying but necessary. It shouldn't require multiple reboots. Someone should test the installation of Office 2010 with a product key card before creating the image. A slightly longer power cable would really help and is not that expensive. And supply a real copy of Windows 7 installation media, so you can clean install the OS easily instead of wasting hours and hours and hours getting rid of the circusware. Asking folks to sit there for 2.5 hours to create 45 cents worth of DVDs is morally repugnant and evil.
Although in terms of raw speed, the equivalent Mac is about twice as expensive as what I've spent on the Asus, the reality is that my two year old Mac boots up faster, starts Office 2010 faster in emulation than this thing, and has a better screen and a longer battery life. The price of a Mac with my Mac's performance is $1499, only a few hundred more. If the display ports are broken, I'll have to do all of this again with a replacement unit next week. Argh!
Score so far: 2/5. Do not recommend. PCs are only cheaper if your time is worthless. I just don't get it.