Meet the Replacement

The computer on the right is the Toshiba Satellite I purchased in 2007 in the middle of my book tour, because the laptop I  had been carrying along with me died and I need something to replace it with, and the Toshiba seemed like a good choice at the time. And it was; your basic 15-incher with all the various bells and whistles. Its major drawback was that it was heavy; about seven or eight pounds. It stopped being my travel computer a while ago, for which my shoulder thanked me, but it did service as my wife’s computer for a number of years, until it basically just got too old and slow and developed a worrying click in the hard drive.

The computer on the left is the Dell XPS 12 I just bought to go on the next tour. It’s not actually a replacement for the Toshiba, which as I noted has been retired as the travel computer for some time (it’s more of a replacement for the MacBook Air which got stolen on the last tour), but my wife decreed that if I was going to bring another computer into the house, one of the older ones had to go. The Toshiba was the oldest and slowest and the least used, so it’s been voted off the island. I pulled the hard drive and the battery and everything else is off to recycling.

It was kind of fun to put the two side by side and just sort of marvel at the difference six years has brought. The XPS is smaller but significantly more powerful, with a better resolution screen which is also touch sensitive, faster guts and a speedier flash memory drive which, while smaller, is more than sufficient in a cloud-obsessed age. On the other hand — and because of said cloud-obsessed age — the XPS lacks an optical drive and even a built-in SDHC card drive. The former I won’t much miss (I can’t actually remember when I used a CD or DVD in my computer), but the SDHC thing is slightly annoying, albeit easily dealt with through a $10 card reader. But basically, the XPS is half as thick, less than half as heavy, and generally twice (or more) the computer the Toshiba is. Not to mention the screen is on a hinge that allows you to make the XPS a slightly bulky but still serviceable tablet. We live in an age of miracles and wonders, I tell you.

Although I’m getting rid of the Toshiba I have to say I am impressed with it. It lasted almost exactly six full years of daily use and right until very near the end did exactly what it was advertised to do. I have no complaints about it at all, and it fulfilled my basic tenet of buying stuff: I bought the best I could buy at the time, and then I used it until it really wasn’t usable anymore. Six years is a good run for a laptop. Let’s see how the XPS 12 does before it gets replaced.

53 Comments on “Meet the Replacement”

  1. That makes me feel good about the Toshiba I bought last year! It’s my only computer, lol, so I’m hoping it will last. Reminds me, I haven’t backed up this month, I better do that real quick…

  2. “Six years is a good run for a laptop. Let’s see how the XPS 12 does before it gets replaced.”

    And suddenly, I heard a million sysadmins laugh their ass off.

  3. Interesting that you have this post. I have a Gateway MX7340 which is at least 6 years old (probably older), that I’m using temporarily because my 3 1/2 year old HP Pavillion died last week. The Gateway runs Crunchbang Linux, and only has 1.5 gigabytes of RAM, but there are plenty of (old) games it will run using emulators, and it has a word processor and surfs the web just fine. If we hadn’t kept it around I don’t know what I would have done…right now I can’t get another computer for at least a month.

  4. Dude – you bought a Dell? Politics aside (I stopped even considering Dells when I found out just how responsible founder Michael Dell was for the existence of the War Criminal Bush Regime!), Dells had devolved into cheaply produced machines with crappy tech and customer support, and a tendency to die about a month after the warranty ends – even before I found a reason to refuse to buy them on principle.

    If you didn’t want to buy a Mac because yes, they are expensive (though not so much so considering both build quality and superb tech support – I’m still using my 8-year old Macbook Pro as a second office machine!), why not a Sony VAIO or Lenovo Thinkpad? They’re (usually) built as premium laptops using similar-quality hardware as Macs, and they last a long time for business use as well.

  5. Timeliebe:

    I’ve actually had pretty good luck with Dell products in a general sense, and the XPS 12 has been mostly pretty positively reviewed. The most negative thing reviews seem to say about it is that the reviewer doesn’t know whether the tablet function is actually going to be useful or not, but that’s not the primary reason I got the computer so I’m not terribly concerned about that. So I figured it was worth a shot.

  6. “my basic tenet of buying stuff: I bought the best I could buy at the time, and then I used it until it really wasn’t usable anymore”

    This is basically my tenent as well, especially for technology. My only addendum is I usually wait a few iterations of a new product before I buy the best available at the time (e.g. iPad, iPhone, etc).

  7. timeliebe – maybe not the way you would want but I found your post the funniest thing I have read all day, thanks!

  8. You mentioned not remembering the last time you used a DVD in your computer. I have but only for things like my Dad’s memorial service movie made by my brother in law. If I want to watch a movie I pop a DVD into the xbox in the den with the mega flat screen on the wall. One thing has emerged at our household, however, that’s a strange reversal of an old theme. My wife has moved her iMac to the living room coffee table, so that it faces the large sofa we have. The screen is about the size of your average TV screen from the 70s at 21″ or so. She watches episodes of Survivor that she downloads and I have started to watch my DVDs like Firefly and Batman and Young Frankenstein there as an alternate ‘site’. Sitting on the sofa, in the living room, like when I was a kid. What a world.

  9. “my basic tenet of buying stuff: I bought the best I could buy at the time, and then I used it until it really wasn’t usable anymore”

    Ditto. I remember one desktop I had for years and years, because I’d just swap out a faster drive or graphics card as the technology progressed. Only thing that wasn’t swapped was the mobo. Finally, I started encountering weird OS issues with XP and had another one built at a local tech business. Still have this one though the graphics cards, nay!–GPU, has been upgraded.

  10. Dammit, man! I saw the title of this post in my RSS reader, and thought “Hey, new episode!!” Instead it’s about your dumb old computer. Howcome you making me wait for my fix?!!?! (I know, I know, tomorrow, but still– DAMMIT, man!)

  11. I’m still working daily on a 17″ iMac I purchased in 2006. Although now the OS is too old to take the upgrades needed to run firefox and adobe reader safely, so the constant stream of software updates has forced my hand, and soon I’ll buy another table top computer. I’d be well please if it lasted me 6-7 years.

  12. I used the CD/DVD drive in my 5-year-old lappo only this afternoon, to bring into iTunes the tracks on a 20-yo (free with a magazine) sampler CD of early music 1100-1600 I found sitting about. I also from time to time burn CDs of my brother’s songs that I recorded for him (and I design the covers, too) so he can sell them or give them to people; most recently he gave away a couple of CDs at a bar in Riga (Latvia) where he had joined in with the resident folk band. DVD is mostly output: burning DVDs of old super-8 home movies (eg a trip to Morocco in 1979) to give out to people.

  13. I have had 3 Toshiba laptops and bought another for my Mom. They have lasted a LONG time, and it was only because I wanted a mbp that u gave up on the Toshiba. They are definitely solid machines. Good luck w/the Dell!

  14. We buy hundreds of Dell desktops annually, have no real reliability issues with them. Just bought a desktop which seems pretty reasonable so far. We don’t buy laptops from them though.

  15. Andrew:

    Yeah, the Mac Air was taken by pros and probably resold to some schmuck in Brooklyn (which is where it last signalled from). That schmuck is PROBABLY WRITING IN A COFFEESHOP RIGHT NOW.

  16. @Timeliebe: It’s charming that your righteous and informed political views allow you to purchase Mac products, which are mostly made in China by people working at just better than a slave’s wage.

    Anyway, I bought a Toshiba abut a year ago because it was the only laptop I could find that included a blu-ray player and was not made by Sony. (I don’t have any particular objection to Sony, I just don’t care for the design of their laptops.) It’s comforting to hear about similar products that are still basically functioning 6 years down the line.

  17. @ Brian DeLue (@SprayonSkin)
    Toshiba laptops are also made in China (by slaves), as are purt’ near all other laptops under the sun, Sport.


  18. I’m a dedicated Mac user. I don’t make a religion of it, and I don’t get into arguments about it–anyone who prefers Windows/PC is free to do so, this is a matter of personal preference, if PC/Windows suits someone else better then it suits them better.

    But even though I am budget-conscious in many things, I’m a Mac user despite their being more expensive, because that’s how much I prefer them–and since I spend a LOT of time on my computers while NOT actually being a computer person or technophile, and since I’m self-employed and without without a tech support department or guy whose job it is to make my computer behave (it’s up to me to deal with any problems), it’s important to me to be on a system that am the most comfortable with.

  19. Avoiding politics and outsourcing, how do you like Windows 8, and Touch? I was almost expecting a Pournellesqe rant when I read you had a touchscreen. That and the date of purchase of course implies Windows 8. Which is like flipping between Over Here and Over There, or maybe London Above and London Below, in terms of the jarring UI shifts. Even if both UIs make internal sense, going todash through the “thinny” into the other world is bizarre and productivity-sucking.

    And no, folks, clicking the Desktop tile does *not* make it work the same as Windows 7. Far beyond just the missing Start orb. Minor touchpad mis-strokes will flip a Metro “immersive” app onto your full screen. Mousing bottom-right will suddenly annoy you with the Charms bar. Top left, which for us folks using Windows since v3, or for that matter Mac-bilinguals with its universal menu bar, is a pretty common control target.

    I have a non-touch new Win8 laptop. (My author wife on deadline having co-opted it today so I’m on the Win7 expanded netbook). It’s fine, but only because I installed Stardock’s Start8 on it for five bucks. Then configured it to utterly ban any of the Windows 8 “hotspots” when on the desktop, as well as to restore the Start button. Some of the Win8 File Explorer (new name of Windows Explorer) changes are real improvements: returning the Up-directory navigation button gone since WinVista; adding a smart, context-sensitive, non-annoying version of the Ribbon but with a meaningful subset of tools even when collapsed. Plus generally faster performance. But if you don’t banish the intrusions from the immersive, tablet/smartphone-oriented, content-consumer-targeted UI formerly known as “Metro”, it’s frakking unusable.

    Really want to hear the professional author perspective on it. Personally, I think this wacky barely-coexistent design was the solution that came out of “The Box”.

  20. @ebbr: Right on, though that was not my point. My point was that if you’re going to get all preachy about the politics of the products you buy you should probably just stop buying stuff. (So you, actually helped prove my point, Ace.)

    However, I suspect this may be going off topic, so I’m going to self-regulate and stop now.

  21. I think I’m sliding into the minority by actively wanting an optical drive on my laptop. I don’t use it often, but often enough – watching DVDs when I don’t want to wake my husband, ripping CDs bought used or at a concert, backup installation discs from legacy software at work, etc. I’m sure there are decent peripheral versions available, but luck would dictate that the one time I really need to use the optical drive is when I don’t have it with me. I know that space and weight concerns are leading the drive to do away with optical drives, but my Toshiba Portege is *tiny* and still has one, so I wouldn’t think it’s that big of a deal. If drives become an optional upgrade, whatever, but I hope they don’t go away for good (at least until the CD/DVD/etc is completely replaced by an alternative media format).

  22. Dell are quite underrated (or even vilified) as a ‘work’ laptop. We use them exclusively here at our company & have had almost no issues (other than through mishandling). You get a lot of bang for buck I must say.

    I remember looking at a home laptop (mobile but not necessarily ultra-portable) a couple Christmases ago & saw a Dell 17″ model with 8GB DDR3, 1080p, top-end ATI mobile 3D vidcard, 1TB fast HDD & all the other trimmings you’d expect. How much? Just AU$850. I really should have grabbed it. My wife, OTOH, just had to have that $1500 Sony Vaio, which the less I say about the better, ahem.

    I still do most of my personal computing on an old work 14″ Dell Vostro 3450 which is coping, even with demanding recent 3D games. I use a similar laptop here in the office, ever since I blew up my Ubuntu PC’s Gnome GUI a year ago, for which I have 2X22″ monitors still sitting on my desk (IT Manglers should never get too techo with OS components ). Oddly enough, you get used to the much smaller screen real-estate & I’m almost inclined to say it’s MORE productive in some ways, as you are forced to focus on one app/window at a time. I might be onto something there I reckon…

  23. I wouldn’t buy a laptop without an optical drive myself, but then my laptop is my only computer. I also admit that I don’t trust cloud storage, especially cloud storage provided by a third party.

  24. dvd/blu-ray still very much a need as far as movies go. Try and get a legal online versions (download/stream) of some recent movies is not possible. Case and point ‘Catagion’ and ‘Munich’ can only be enjoyed via a disc (ultraviolet for one of them *after* you buy the disc)

  25. I had a Toshiba laptop for about 5 years ago but it died when the power button fried out. We just got a Samsung Series 7 with the 17.3 which is half the weight of my old Toshiba and with the i7 can crunch through most games I play. I’ve gotten used to Windows 8 by hitting the Windows key + D as soon as I sign in. It’s like John noted on his Windows 8 post, the desktop is for work and the Start screen is for play. As long as you have a quick way to get to the desktop for work, it’s bearable. And the bootup time is impressive.

    Michael Dell is an odious beast but his desktops/laptops are durable. Plenty of bloatware to strip out but after that they run just fine.

  26. I got a used Dell (XP) from a friend and although it’s a 2003 (?) model, the damn thing still runs although it weighs a ton. I keep it around for backup, for lending, and for the optical drive, b/c sometimes you gotta rip.

    I am coming to you from the Samsung Chromebook, which is light as a feather, and has an SD and 2 speeds of USB. I don’t store a lot, so even the minimal space has been enough that I haven’t bothered to use my cloud storage except for some shared documents of funny stuff. Mostly I surf the net and read email and do video chat, so as long as I have wi-fi, I’m all rarin’ to go. Without wi-fi, I still have apps and games, so. Yay, best $250 I’ve spent in ages.

  27. Six years seems to be about the life for a Toshiba Satellite. I’m on my second – and the first died (two-inch white band down the middle of the screen) after just about that length of time. I’ll admit that it had certain problems that never went away from Day 1, but it was good enough that I went for the brand a second time. I was briefly considering a Mac Air as a replacement…but realized that a new Toshiba plus an iPad still totalled less, and that’s what I went with.

    My 1999 Gateway is still sitting in the closet and has been hauled out at least once for work purposes. (I have to plug it in because the battery is mostly shot and irreplaceable, but I ran into a situation that required Win98.)

  28. Wait…what?! You didn’t solicit our OPINION first before buying?! See if we EVER TALK TO YOU AGAIN about tech stuff. Harumph! (Stalks off in a huff).

  29. My Dell laptop is going on four years now. Teenager is using it along with the seven year old. Man that thing is a workhorse and weighs a ton. So I bought a new Acer a few months back. Dang motherboard proceeded to fry. Worst customer service ever. Did you know there are no phone numbers to actually call this company? I had to convince them by email to finally give me a ticket so I could send it in. I had to pay big bucks to ship it too. My son’s ASUS died (hard drive issue) not long after buying it. Great customer service. Never had a problem with customer service at Dell either. Dells have always been good to me.

  30. stoicjim, you obviously don’t follow Scalzi on Twitter, when he was asking about light laptops with backlit keyboards, now were you? Can only blame yourself, now come back here and apologize! =p

  31. Christopher Geoffries @ 2:23 am: There are quite a few of us who WISH we had the option to only buy laptops that have Linux pre-installed, but unfortunately, there are just not enough choices. Even setting aside cost considerations, if you want certain specifications all in one laptop, you just have to bite the bullet and get one that starts off with Windows 8. Luckily, most still feature a Legacy Boot option, so I expect to pick one up in late spring, and finally ditch MS Windows for good (at home).
    (Like you, I’m definitely a Linux Mint fan).

  32. I just bought a Toshiba Satellite a couple of months ago. It was a big, big expenditure for me — I’m reassured to hear that they last!

  33. @Mark Mercer: I am a computer professional who just bought a Windows 8 laptop for personal use. The new OS takes some getting used to – a lot of the “workflow” I used to use to get to my files and applications has been moved or changed, and that’s frustrating in the short term.

    On the other hand, I’ve decided that the only thing I really miss from Windows 7 is start menu jump lists (you still get them on the task bar). Everything else has a keyboard shortcut that is if anything faster than what was in Windows 7 — I just had to learn and internalize it, which is the big hurdle.

    Once you get the hang of using the Windows key for quick access to… well, everything on your computer, Windows 8 actually seems like a pretty good idea. But that’s just my opinion; everyone has their own preferences on how they want to use their computer. In the meantime, if you hate the start screen, you can get add-ons that bring back the start menu.

  34. To David Fried: How easy is it to get to the directory? It’s an old habit first picked up in the DOS days and has always been my way of ‘getting’ to what I want, where I want. I use the Start button primarily to open a directory(right-click, ‘open windows explorer’ in Win7), so that I can get to ‘program files’, or whatever else I’m looking to find.

  35. Staying out of the religious wars, I’d just like to make a note about traveling. I was in Moscow last week and thought I’d fried my laptop with the electricity from the Stalin-era apartment I was staying in. Turned out it was just the power brick which had died and I hadn’t noticed until the battery had been completely drained. Anyway, I bought a Belkin single-output surge protector with European plugs to keep my tablet and iPhone from being zapped too. It was about $25. A good thing to have if you’re going somewhere that the power is unreliable.

    Say, John, are you not published in Russian yet? I was in Dom Knigi, Moscow’s biggest bookstore, and thought it would be fun to tweet a pic of your books there. Not found.

  36. I just replaced my iMac this year – went from the 2008 24″ to the 2013 27″ and as a professional writer myself, I have to say I love it! I can display two full pages in Word side by side at 150% and clearly read them from 2 feet away. My eyes seem to be rebelling against fine print these days, and this mades work much easier.
    My 2009 13″ Macbook Pro is still going strong too, though I mostly use it for travel and presentations.

  37. I won’t pretend I’m not a fanboy, or at least a strongly biased Mac user, but dang, that is a pretty sweet piece of hardware! I might have to get my hands on one of those to play with. How’s the touch screen usability with Windows 8 vs. a tablet specific OS (Android, iOS)?

  38. @gleonguerrero: It’s no different than Windows 7.

    I pin Explorer to my task bar and to the start screen,and I also have “My Computer” icon on my desktop (right click on desktop and go to settings to specify which icons appear). So one click from anywhere on my computer gets me to Explorer; two if I feel like double-clicking the My Computer icon.

    I think a lot of the confusion about Windows 8 comes from the Windows RT thing. Windows RT is a tablet-only OS similar to Android or iOS. Windows 8 proper is a fully-formed desktop OS, compatible with everything from Windows 7 all the way back to DOS. Windows 8 and Windows RT share the same start screen and Windows 8 “Apps” and app store, and they can share most of their data. But if you buy a laptop or desktop, you are getting the full Windows 8 which is basically Windows 7 with modified UI and a start screen instead of a start menu. Anything you can do in Windows 7 you can do in Windows 8.

  39. Late again. I dig Windows RT. I’ve got a Surface tablet open right now. It comes with Office preinstalled, which is huge for me as I spend most of my day buried in Excel spreadsheets and word documents. The tablet is way more than just an email browser/Angry Birds platform. I can mount up external drives and do real work on it. For my needs, it is objectively superior to the wife and daughter’s iPads, and generally better than the Android based Nexus 10 that I own, although I prefer that for e-reading as the Kindle app for Android is better. It is also a bit more comfortable to hold.

    Macs still drive all my music, though. This post is being written on a Linux desktop, which is good for nothing other than as a development platform.

    Point being, all the religious attitudes are dumb. These are tools. They have specific problem spaces where they may be better or worse than other tools. I don’t drive screws with a hammer, and I don’t expect every tool in my box to be a hammer.

  40. When you consider build quality and longevity, Thinkpads are the only way to go.

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