The New Toy, December 2012 Edition

You may recall that about a year ago my desktop computer crapped out, and my choice to replace it was at first nothing (I was using my MacBook Air) and then a Mac Mini. These solutions worked tolerably well, but in time I decided I needed a little more ooomph, both for the various graphics processing things I do and for the occasional zombie hunt. So after doing a bit of research I picked up this: The Dell XPS One. This is the tricked out version with a ten-point touchscreen and all the other bells and whistles. It came down to between this and the iMac 27-inch; I went with this one because of the touchscreen and it being marginally less expensive. The iMac would have slightly more power in the graphics processing arena (they both have NVIDIA GPUs, with the iMacs having a slightly higher number), but this one does well enough for what I will do with it. And here we are. In any event, if I still have a hankering for the Mac environment, I plugged the Mac Mini into one of the HDMI slots. It won’t be a problem to get at it.

The Dell came with Windows 8, which I am fiddling with now to see what I think of it; mostly I think at this point it adds another screen of things before I can get to the stuff I actually want to access, but I’m willing to give it a shot and see how it works. I will admit it’s nice to be able to touch the screen and get things to move about, although we’ll have to see how much I end up actually using that in the long run. I do intend to keep a cloth for the screen handy; it’s already smudgy.

And now I’m off to download Steam and some of the FPS games I’ve been missing. Excuse me.

57 Comments on “The New Toy, December 2012 Edition”

  1. I’ll be interested to see what you think of Win8. So far, its reception has been a resounding “Meh.” As a Windows user since before Windows existed, I’m not all that thrilled with 8 myself.

  2. Just FYI: if you don’t take to the startscreen environment you can pretty much stay exclusively in dekstop mode if you pin your frequently used programs to the taskbar. I pretty much only go into the startscreen if I’m playing with windows 8 apps, or using xbox music.

  3. I have Vista on my PC, but also use iPad and iPod with all the touchscreen stuff. What’s the deal about Windows 8 I keep hearing about? There’s a lot of negativity over the ’tiles’ issue. Can someone with Windows 8 chip in and explain a bit?

  4. Good luck with that! I messed with a couple of them in a store, and went and bought an OEM copy of Windows 7 Pro as insurance.

  5. @Gleonguerrero Basically the new “Start Screen” has replaced the start menu button from previous incarnations of windows. This has pissed a lot of people off for one reason or another. The majority of gripes claim that it makes everything more complicated but I don’t really see how. It has basically made your start menu a visually appealing screen.

    Also a lot of people are under the misconception that you HAVE to use the start screen to do traditional tasks; you don’t. You can pin all of your regularly used programs to your task bar and you can create desktop shortcuts just like you have been able to do in windows since the beginning of time.

    I personally love Windows 8 even though I don’t use the start screen that often. It’s lighter than 7 and my system performance has noticably improved.

  6. Let us know how sturdy your Dell is! I’ve been hearing they took a sharp dive in quality recently. I have two that have been chugging along for nearly a decade now (even though they’re hopelessly outdated and can’t even do WiFi, they’re perfect for word processing), but post 2006 I’ve heard horror tales.

  7. @Book Wyrm: “Visually appealing” is clearly in the eye of the beholder. To my own eyes the Win8 Start Screen looks like a garish, blocky, technicolor mess. Looking at it makes me wince.

    So I’m glad to see here that several folks have found utilities that allow one to bypass the startscreen entirely.

  8. I’m more interested in which FPSes you are catching up on. I highly recommend Borderlands 2 and Dishonored.

  9. @Book Wyrm: thanks for that. I’m pretty flexible when it comes to OS’s (hey, I use my wife’s iMac even!). And if MS have reduced system load as well for that puppy, all the better.

  10. Rocking an older version, but yes. One sugestion, a second screen. If you do, you will never go back to just one. And welcome back to Left for Dead 2!

  11. @Book Wyrm: pinning programs to the taskbar works fine if you only use a few. If you regularly use dozens of different ones, as I have to, the task bar quickly becomes unwieldy, as does cluttering the desktop with dozens of shortcuts, and a start menu becomes a necessity.

  12. Let us know how you go with touch screen use after a few months. My desktop screen is located too far back from the keyboard to even bother trying to touch.

  13. @Stephen A. Watkins While I don’t dispute that it’s a question of aesthetic taste, it’s silly to download anything to bypass it as Windows 8 allows you to do that already, by staying in desktop mode. So those “utilities” are simply redundant bloatware.

    Honestly, I haven’t clicked Start since halfway through using Windows XP back in 2002. It’s not the big loss naysayers claim it is.

  14. @Alex Satrapa I worried about this too, but Windows 8’s start screen also utilizes the mouse very well. You figure it all out after about 5 minutes, and after a half an hour it seems quite natural

  15. @Riccardo True, if you really use dozens on a daily basis, that can get kinda nuts. But I’ve never understood how alphabetically arranged icons on your desktop is any different than wading through the start menu. Though, I admit, I’ve never felt it necessary to have a “clean” desktop.

    The average user uses no more than 12 programs on a day to day basis, and it’s usually the same twelve over and over again. Those all easily fit on the taskbar and if you have a few extra it’s not like they will really clutter your desktop that much.

    Again, this all goes back to taste. Personally I’m the kinda user that operates under a, “The fewer clicks, the better,” philosophy.

  16. I was going to say, “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” and then I realized that is over nine years old and no one remembers Ben Curtis.

    Now imagine me shaking a 3.5″ floppy disk at you and grumbling about the cyberyouth of today.

  17. @gleonguerrero no problem, man. Try it out. You might like it you might not. It’s by no means a final solution, but I like MS’s new philosophy of a unified interface for all of their products, and I hope they keep reworking it until it’s right, instead of going backward. It’s like seeing scifi become scifact.

  18. Hi John!

    Out of curiosity, do you accept Steam friend requests from fans, or do you prefer to keep your friends list to real friends only? I’d love to add you to my friends list if you’re willing, but I understand if that’s not your thing.

    My Steam username is (unsurprisingly) jramboz.

  19. Touchscreens make sense for tablets. I’m really not sure that they do for something you have to extend your whole arm to use.

  20. Another vote for Classic Shell, here. It took Windows 8 from something I wanted to continually punch to something I can actually use. I absolutely will not run Windows 8 without Classic Shell (and since it’s free, why the heck not use it?).

  21. @ Book Wyrm: DOS is when I really came onboard for all things truly computer, so multiple approaches to applications is not a big deal for me. In fact, I like knowing one can look ‘under the hood’ if necessary. I plaster my desktop with shortcuts and folders of shortcuts as needed, but also have no qualms about popping up the directory (Windows Explorer) to find what’s needed. Windows 8 sounds interesting.

  22. Keep in mind that the folder that managed the Start Menu still exists and now manages the Start Screen. You can add it as a custom toolbar on the taskbar. <– Steps to do so.

    You can also use Windows+X to open a menu of administrative tasks. This can be useful. Windows+D will also launch the desktop always.

    Shutdown by default is a new hybrid-hibernation/shutdown. It closes your active applications but hibernates the system itself to increase boot speed. If a program prompts you to restart, you have to actually restart (not shutdown and then reboot). If you want to do a 100% full shutdown, hold shift when selecting shutdown.

    I work for Toshiba and have spent a decent amount of time recently offering Windows 8 help.

  23. If you wanted to switch back and forth between OS platforms, the iMac would have been a better choice. You can run Windows via virtualization or Boot Camp. The mini would sell readily on eBay or via Gazelle.

  24. To me, the Win 8 start screen brings to mind flying through the opening credits of Futurama. I expect to see an ad for Mom’s Old-Fashioned Robot Oil and then have the Planet Express crash into one of the tiles.

  25. Remember the days when households only had one computer?

    (the win 8 interface looks all candy-colored to me with those boxes around the icons. Can you change that setting or is it what you’re stuck with?)

  26. I went to a computer store to check out the win 8 screen. I didn’t like it. It looks like they tried to make my whole laptop into a supersize phone. But the woman demonstrating it for me showed me one Icon floating around which switched the screen back to a standard look.

    My concern is that Micro$oft promises (threatens) that a good many old programs will no longer work. I have programs (like vi, for others old enough to remember it) that I really like and use a lot. If they won’t work on win 8, it will be a major pain to find suitable substitute programs.

    But what I really can’t understand is why they won’t fix problems that have been around since before win 95 instead of constantly making massive changes with loads of new problems.

  27. Heh, a smudgy screen.

    I have a smudgy screen story.

    When I was hired at my new job a few years back, they bought two new 27″ flat screens for me to work with. I was the envy of the company: “I wish I were the new guy”, etc., etc.


    There’s this guy at work who got hired on about 6 months after I did. He actually replaced my position and I was given a position in R&D, as HR thought we fit both jobs better, respectively.

    Well, he ended up with my screens. Sooo, whenever calls me over and he asks me questions about something, I sometimes have the habit of touching the screen to point out this or that. Well, out of his mouth shoots: “Don’t touch my screeeeen! You’re scratching it” or “You’re smudging it!”.


    It happens now and then, I’m just used to touching the damn screen. Sheesh.

    I just want to say to him: “Look man, when I had these screens I licked and rubbed my butt on every inch of them. Nyah!”.

    Now I wish we had touch screens. That’d teach him.

  28. Touch screens. Ugh. I don’t like them. I know I’m in the minority but … not even my smartphone is touch screen. I wonder how long I can keep THAT up?

  29. It’s been nice reading your blog. Hope to see you back in the land of blog around mid next year, I estimate it will take you that long to get through the backlog of FPS games you will find on steam! ;)

  30. I just got an inexpensive Dell laptop with Window 8 a couple of days ago. Still,trying to get use to it and find where things are hidden. I think it is more like an IMac UI now.

  31. I just realized yesterday that my laptop still is running Windows Vista. I think it’s time for a new laptop. The spouse never wants to update Windows because the first version is always buggy.

  32. Windows 8 is just another program that thinks it is important enough
    for you to learn new things.
    Maybe yes, maybe no.

  33. Let us know how you adapt to the touch screen. It seems I’m going the opposite direction these days by picking up more keyboard shortcuts and relying on the command line. Some of it I attribute to Ubuntu’s Unity desktop and starting programs using Dash or using the HUD. I’ve also switched to that in Win7 over pulling up the Start menu and rooting around with the mouse to find the application I want to run.

  34. I have a touch screen dell, an XFR. It’s nice when demonstrating something, but for everyday tasks it’s hot keys and shortcuts for me.

  35. I know that when I get a new laptop (my current one has 4 or 5 nonworking keys and is 3 years old), I will have to install Linux on it. At this point, I don’t think I will need to dual-boot as I do currently…both Netflix and Steam work well by using Wine (customized heavily for Netflix) and they were the only 2 things holding me to Windows.
    I’m unsure whether I should give Windows 8 a chance or not. I really don’t want to, and I say this as someone VERY happy with Windows 7. It fixed everything that Vista screwed up.

  36. Ditto on Classic Shell. It allows you to completely avoid the start screen when you turn on the computer. With Classic Shell, I am very happy with Windows 8, which really does have actual improvements on Windows 7 if you can just get past that darn start screen. Although if you have a touchscreen, maybe the start screen isn’t so bad.

  37. I actually work for Dell. We get a 17% discount on their computers. Virtually none of us buy them because even after the discount its a ripoff (yes I’m staying anonymous). We get 10% off of TVs. I was looking at a Samsung. What companies do today is have slightly different versions with different vendors. This makes it harder to price compare. Even after the 10% discount Walmart had what was virtually the same thing for $120 less.

    One other thing to watch out for with Dell, HP, IBM, etc… computers is rebranding of video cards. Basically they take a cheap older video card and give it a higher number that only they carry. I highly suggest googling any video cards you see from major vendors. Someone, somewhere will have asked on a forum about it and you will know what it really is.

    I just buy the parts and build it myself. Microcenter has REALLY cheap intel chips. You can get good combos at Newegg as well. You can probably save 40% doing this or more (and this includes buying windows).

    The company was trying to get employees to buy their new Windows 8 devices to use in marketing. Back when they had phones they sent out an email telling about the latest BYOD benefit. We can buy our own Dell phones and use them at work. Not long after they discontinued the phones.

    If you are on Steam try demos of these two games. Mount and Blade and Towns. There are alot of mods for mount and blade. There is one to convert into into a War in Middle Earth. Towns is in large part based on a free rogue like called Dwarf Fortress. DF is an ascii game that has been in development for 8 years and has incredible depth. The New York Times did an 8 page story on the developer. It is very hard. The motto is ‘losing is fun’. You can get it for free at
    Look at the developers blog… the amount of work he puts in is incredible. All his revenue comes from donations.

  38. @Farley

    No offense, but I hate people like you. Some of us can see the fingerprints and smudges on the screen, and it does bother us. Especially when we are trying to review images and have to double check to see if something is an artifact or just where some idiot has left grease everywhere.

    I’m surprised your colleague was as restrained as he was.

  39. @duskfire: Steam is well underway with its Linux beta client. It works quite well on my system. However, for Netflix you’ll still have to resort to the patched wine. I doubt they will ever release a native Linux client.

  40. @Matt at 1:01 – I have already tried the customized wine+silverlight installation of Netflix and it seemed to be just fine on my laptop (running Mint 13). That success, more than even my limited use of Steam on Linux (with Crossover), is what has convinced me that I can do without Windows completely now.

  41. @rochrist

    That depends on who you are. Enterprise level support is great – I can phone up with a serial number and have a replacement part the next day. The build quality of their “high end” kit OK but nothing special.

    If you are getting their standard kit and support package then you are absolutely correct.

  42. I installed Win 8 because my go-to tech-geek friend said the back end was a vast improvement over Win 7, and the UI was the only issue. (My girlfriend is firmly in the Linux camp, so she was no help.) I think he’s right–apps do seem to launch a little bit faster.

    @Johne Cook:

    My friend recommended Start8 to me as well. I basically don’t even bother with the Win8 tiles thanks to it.


    Remember the days when households only had one computer?

    I’m just old enough to remember when most middle-class households had only one television and one telephone. We got our first home computer (a Commodore 128) shortly after the second TV.

  43. @ Farley

    Self-absorbed employees like you who escalated office antagonism, raised the general level of tension, and all-around thought it okay to bully co-workers just so you could get some childish thrill by pushing some guy’s OCD buttons, were the bane of my existence as a manager for eight goddamn years. The workplace is not a kindergarten. Grow up and stop starting fires others have to put out. No one thinks you’re clever for behaving like an ass.

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